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Yesterday, October 31, Korban was arrested by special forces in Dnipropetrovsk. News of the operation got out, but authorities denied it was related to the arrest. Korban’s lawyers complained that 8 spetsnaz officers from the Alfa division made the arrest, and did not show any identification or explain why they were detaining Korban, Unian reported.
A number of law-enforcers have themselves been investigated and accused of involvement in the criminal gang, says Unian.
Korban’s home was searched as well as that of his parents and members of Ukrop, a nationalist party named for the derogatory nick-name that Russians have for Ukrainians (“dill-weed”). Members include Right Sector’s Dmytro Yarosh, Andriy Biletsky, Boryslav Bereza, Borys Filatov, and Volodymyr Parasiuk. The home and office of Pavel Khazan, chairman of the board of the Country Defense Fund were also searched, as well as of Boris Filatov, who is a member of Ukrop’s political council.
Korban was taken to the investigative department of the Prosecutor General’s office, where he fell ill, with elevated blood pressure. An ambulance was dispatched, and doctors said he may have suffered a stroke and advised hospitalization, Unian reported yesterday.
Nevertheless, he remained in the investigative cell and his lawyers were not permitted access to him.
Ihor Kolomoiskyi, the Ukrainian oligarch who backed the Ukrop party and has supported Korban’s candidacy condemned the arrest as a “painful reaction” to Korban’s supposed success in the elections (translation by The Interpreter):
“The Korban case is pure politics. I am certain that it is related to the results that the Ukrop party got in the local elections.”
Asked if he saw Korban’s arrest as the presidential administration taking a hostage to put pressure on him, Kolomoiskyi said
“No one has put any demands on me, I don’t feel pressure, much less blackmail. I communicate normally with the presidential administration, they have not expressed any complaints to me.”
He denied Korban was guilty of any crimes and said the case files on Korban “had been lying in folders gathering dust.”
Sidorenko said that the Novoazov Court in Chernihov had issued the warrant for the arrest; this was the same court that last summer ordered the search of Anton Chernyshenko, head of the Appellate Court in Kiev, who had refused to issue a ruling in favor of President Petro Poroshenko in the case of the Ukrgazdobycha shares.
Poroshenko for his part said today that the investigation would be conducted with “maximum transparency” and that soon “new names” would be heard of persons to be charged, Unian reported.
He said that when the Ukrainian parliament removed immunity from members of parliament to battle corruption, these types of cases could be expected.
Halya Coynash of the Kharkiv Group for Protection of Human Rights said the SBU had stated that they deliberately waited until the elections were over to make Korban’s arrest. As it turned out, Korban was not among the leading candidates in Kyiv, but Filatov was one of two main contenders in a second round of voting for the post of mayor in Dnipropetrovsk, which will take place on November 15, says Coynash.
The charges against Korban stem from an alleged theft of over 40 million hyrvnia ($1.7 million) from the Country Defense Fund which was intended as aid for the ATO (the Anti-Terrorist Operation). With the overwhelming challenge of the Russian invasion and underfunding of the Ukrainian army, there has been a massive outpouring of citizens’ support for the soldiers. Many people have collected money, food and clothing to pass on to the troops.
The SBU claims the money “disappeared” after transfer to a certain bank and was used to buy expensive cars and enrich certain individuals. The SBU also claims that essentially a private army was functioning, financed through illegal deals. This army wasn’t involved with the volunteer battalions fighting in the war, they claimed, although Kolomoiskiy has supported this effort as well.
The kidnapping charge relates to a claim by Oleksandr Velychko, director of the legal department at the Dnipropetrovsk City Council, who accused Korban of ordering his abduction on February 25, 2015. In a video post, he said he was held at a Right Sector base in Peski. But Korban says another video later appeared showing Velychko reading from a paper saying he himself orchestrated his own disappearance, Coynash reported. She explained the background:
According to MP and journalist Serhiy Leschenko, Velychko was abducted from Korban’s reception room and held as a hostage for a week, demanding that the acting Mayor Romanenko resign. Leshchenko points out that just the charges of kidnapping alone are serious and carry sentences of 8-15 years.
The other abduction was of the head of the State Agency for Land Resources Serhiy Rudyk who disappeared after arrived for a working visit to Dnipropetrovsk in July 2014. The regional administration (under Kolomoisky and Korban) asserted that he had volunteered to one of the battalions fighting in Donbas, while Rudyk’s VO Svoboda party insisted that he had been abducted. Rudyk later publicly stated that he had been abducted, though there is no report of his having accused anybody of involvement.
Meanwhile, Yury Butusov, Chief Editor of Censor.net reported on October 31 that Korban had contacted the publication through his lawyer and denied the charges, saying that the funds had been used to purchase food, gear and vehicles for soldiers.
Butusov said the SBU even used armored vehicles in the arrest operation, citing a link to the Facebook page of Maksim Ivanishchev, an MP from Zaprorozhye, who expressed shock that instead of the usual jeeps, such new armor was used — “Why isn’t this military armor at the front? Or do we have a ‘minister of defense from the people’ now?”
Butusov also noted that among the vehicles involved in the raid was an Alfa minibus with Donetsk plates; it turned out the operation was reportedly led by Vladimir Chovganyuk, commander of the SBU’s Alfa spetsnaz division and his deputy Maj. Gen. Valeriy Shaytanov of the SBU’s anti-terrorism department, who according to Zakarpattia Region Governor Hennadiy Moskal was among those who stormed the trade union building in February 2014 during the Maidan protests.
Later at a briefing the SBU denied Shaytanov led the arrest raid, but Butusov continued to maintain that he was involved in the operation and provided a number of highlights from his controversial role in the last year in the war.
Shaytanov was said to hold talks with the Russian-backed Vostok Battalion leader Aleksandr Khodakovsky, whom he knew well, as Khodakovsky himself formerly served as an Alfa commander in the SBU before going over to the side of the separatists.
Shaytanov was said to agree not to storm Slavyansk in April 2014 after learning how well it was defended. Ultimately, the Ukrainian army liberated Slavyansk and the separatists fled in July 2014, however. But earlier an Alfa operation to seize separatist commander Igor Bezler in Gorlovka failed, and the Alfa officers were kidnapped; in order to get them back, the Ukrainian army had to release three well-known separatist leaders including Pavel Gubarev, the “prime minister” of the DNR, who had kidnapped border guards and counter-intelligence agents of the SBU.
Butusov also claimed that Shaytanov refused to give orders to fire on the Russian-backed separatists at the Donetsk Airport.
After these failures, then-acting president Oleksandr Turchinov held a hearing and fired Shaytanov from Alfa from the command of Alfa — but not from the SBU, as it happened.
Later, Butusov writes, he learned that Chovganyuk and Shaytanov, instead of being investigated, continued at the SBU and in August 2015, Shaytanov was promoted to the rank of major general, as the presidential website states.
The Jerusalem Post reported that Korban was a member of the board of trustees of the Dnipropetrovsk Jewish community, and also quoted Filatov as skeptical of the Ukrainian government’s claims that the arrest was not political.
— Catherine A. Fitzpatrick