By Thaisa Semenova
Oct. 11, 2021
Ukraine’s top prosecutor on Oct. 11 authorized the arrest of pro-Kremlin lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk unless he can post bail of Hr 1 billion (about $38 million).
Renat Kuzmin, a fellow MP from Medvedchuk’s 44-member Opposition Platform – For Life faction, published the State Investigation Bureau warrant for Medvedchuk’s arrest.
On Oct. 8, Medvedchuk was charged with terrorism and a second count of high treason. Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova accused the lawmaker of sabotaging Ukraine’s energy independence. Medvedchuk is already under house arrest as he awaits to be tried on a previous treason charge.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said that in 2014, months after Russia invaded Crimea and Donbas, Medvedchuk derailed Ukraine’s attempt to buy coal from South Africa. Instead, he allegedly orchestrated an illegal scheme to supply coal from Russian-occupied Donbas to state-owned enterprises in Ukraine.
The SBU published audio tapes of a man alleged to be Medvedchuk discussing the scheme with top Russian officials and their proxies in Donbas. The audiotapes reveal Medvedchuk’s communications with then-Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Kozak, President Vladimir Putin’s top aide Vladyslav Surkov and Vladimir Ostrovenko, deputy chief of Putin’s administration.
The SBU alleges that Medvedchuk and his associate Serhiy Kuzyara opened bank accounts and signed coal shipping contracts with leaders of the Russian-controlled militants.
The coal was later shipped to Russia, rebranded as Russian and shipped to Ukraine’s state-owned energy company Centrenergo. Kremlin-led militants, fighting against Ukrainian troops, received more than Hr 200 million ($7 million) from Ukraine due to this deal.
Power shortages and periodic blackouts followed Medvedchuk’s attempt to force Ukraine to buy coal from occupied Donbas, the prosecution alleges.
If found guilty, Medvedchuk is looking at up to 15 years in prison.
Medvedchuk and his pro-Kremlin party have made statements denying the lawmaker’s guilt and calling the charges politically motivated.
Medvedchuk is a Ukrainian citizen but has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is the godfather of his daughter.
On May 11, Venediktova handed Medvedchuk and his ally, Opposition Platform MP Taras Kozak, their first high treason charge. They are suspected of colluding with the Russian government to extract natural resources in occupied Crimea.
According to Venediktova, after Russia annexed Crimea, Medvedchuk re-registered his Kyiv-based company based on Russian laws to continue extracting gas in the peninsula. She demonstrated audio tapes that allegedly show Medvedchuk discussing the details of it with Kozak.
In the recording, Kozak allegedly says that the company needs to be re-registered to a Russian citizen and Medvedchuk agrees to do it.
The oil and gas field that Medvedchuk’s company allegedly worked in is estimated to be worth Hr 38 billion ($1.44 billion), according to Venediktova. It is known as the Hlyboke oil and gas field and is located in the eastern part of Crimea.
Medvedchuk allegedly shared geological information that helped Russia begin extracting resources in Crimea.
He has denied wrongdoing.
This year saw Medvedchuk’s precipitous fall from being one of Ukraine’s most influential men with three TV channels to a sanctioned criminal defendant with none.
On Feb. 19, Ukraine’s National Security Council imposed sanctions against Medvedchuk, his wife, Oksana Marchenko, and several other individuals and entities. The sanctions froze the couple’s assets for three years and prevented them from doing business in the country.
The decision came two weeks after the council on Feb. 2 issued personal sanctions against Medvedchuk’s closest ally, pro-Kremlin lawmaker Taras Kozak and his three nationwide TV channels – NewsOne, Channel 112, and ZIK, which aired Kremlin propaganda about Ukraine.
As a result of the sanctions, the channels immediately shut down. The council on Feb. 19 also imposed sanctions on Natalia Lavreniuk, Kozak’s wife.
Back in 2014, the U.S. sanctioned Medvedchuk for “being a threat to Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.”