An interview with Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko

The Ukrainian police force is compiling lists of parliament members who ought to be stripped of their parliamentary immunity from prosecution, and seeking to establish who was responsible for poisoning President Viktor Yushchenko.

Yuri Lutsenko is the first civilian to head the Interior Ministry of Ukraine. He is currently negotiating with Russia, demanding the extradition of “criminals who supported the regime of former president Leonid Kuchma.” He is also compiling lists of Supreme Rada (Ukrainian parliament) members who ought to be stripped of their parliamentary immunity from prosecution, and seeking to establish who was responsible for poisoning President Viktor Yushchenko. In this interview, Lutsenko discusses progress in all these areas.

Question: Viktor Yushchenko said recently that the toxin used to poison him during the election campaign was made in Ukraine – not in Russia, as many had claimed. You were among those who hinted at a “Russian connection,” saying that you knew “which member of parliament had transported the poison across which border.” So your theory wasn’t confirmed?

Yuri Lutsenko: That was only a theory, one that I expressed straight after being appointed as interior minister. That supposition was based on the information available at the time. The investigation is now being handled by the Prosecutor General’s Office and the Ukrainian Security Service. The Interior Ministry is hardly doing any investigation work on that case.

Question: You are demanding that 16 Supreme Rada members whose names appear in various criminal cases should be stripped of their parliamentary immunity. Are these mostly supporters or opponents of the new administration?

Yuri Lutsenko: These members of parliament are involved in cases instigated by the Interior Ministry. Some of them are from the “new opposition” – supporters of former prime minister Viktor Yanukovich. Others are members of pro-Yushchenko factions. I don’t categorize them according to their political colors. Not all of the 16 are criminals or suspects. Some are wanted as witnesses, but have refused to testify in court. Due to their reluctance to cooperate with the investigation, I have been forced to request the Prosecutor General’s Office to prepare the paperwork for stripping them of their parliamentary immunity. Those documents should soon be considered by the Supreme Rada.

Question: When Igor Bakai, former head of the Ukrainian State Affairs Directorate, was arrested briefly in Russia and released, the actions of the Moscow police were described in Ukraine as “sabotaging Ukrainian-Russian agreements.” Kiev accuses Bakai of stealing money from the Artek Camp, and demands his extradition. Rumor has it that this case could lead to a chill in relations between Moscow and Kiev.

Yuri Lutsenko: I trust this incident was due to simple carelessness by mid-ranking and junior police officers in Russia. I have written to the Russian Interior Ministry, requesting it to take measures to detain Bakai. I doubt that he is a Russian citizen. Bakai’s Russian citizenship has been confirmed by Russian Ambassador in Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin – editor’s note I have official information to the effect that Bakai doesn’t have an internal passport registered with the Russian Interior Ministry. The CIS Coordination Bureau for Countering Organized Crime has confirmed that Bakai was detained in Moscow, but hasn’t explained why he was released just four hours later. I disagree with claims that there were insufficent grounds for detaining him. The evidence is readily available – from the international wanted list, the Interior Ministry, and Interpol. The Russian Prosecutor General’s Office has confirmed that it is prepared to cooperate in deporting Bakai if he is found on the territory of Russia.