Zviahilskyi returns to Ukraine to face accusations
by Roman Woronowycz
Kyiv Press Bureau
KYIV - Verkhovna Rada Deputy Yukhym Zviahilskyi, the former prime minister of Ukraine under President Leonid Kravchuk who fled to Israel in 1994 amid charges of embezzlement, returned to Ukraine on March 3 after the Verkhovna Rada reinstated his legislative immunity from prosecution.
In 1994 Mr. Zviahilskyi was accused by Procurator General of Ukraine Vladyslav Datsiuk of central involvement in the disappearance of $25 million in an aviation fuel scandal. Those charges have never been proved, and Mr. Zviahilskyi was never formally charged.
The Procurator General's Office recently announced that the charges were leveled at Mr. Zviahilskyi without sufficient grounds, but said that its investigation would continue. On that basis, the Verkhovna Rada passed a resolution on February 12 to return to the Donetsk deputy his full legislative authority.
Deputy Stepan Khmara, who chairs the temporary committee in the Verkhovna Rada that has been investigating the charges, said on March 4 that Mr. Zviahilskyi has not been exonerated. "The investigation into Mr. Zviahilskyi's past dealings in Ukraine, in substance, is just beginning," said Mr. Khmara. He explained that up to now the committee had been preoccupied with why Mr. Zviahilskyi asked for Israeli citizenship and how he might return to Ukraine. Mr. Khmara told reporters that Mr. Zviahilskyi's return would propel the matter forward. "The Procurator General's Office will no longer be able to find objective reasons behind its inability to carry on the investigation," said Mr. Khmara
Mr. Zviahilskyi was implicated in 1994 by the procurator at the time, Mr. Datsiuk, for being involved in the sale abroad of 200,000 tons of aviation fuel at rock-bottom prices and then charged with gross embezzlement of government funds. On November 15, Mr. Datsiuk, speaking from the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada accused the deputy of abuse of office. The legislative body then passed a resolution stripping Mr. Zviahilskyi of legislative immunity. By that time, however, Mr. Zviahilskyi was in Tel Aviv, where he had fled two days earlier.
Mr. Datsiuk, who left office 16 months ago, said on Ukrainian Television on March 5 that he would not comment on the return of Mr. Zviahilskyi because he was no longer privy to details of the investigation by the Procurator's General's Office.
Mr. Zviahilskyi's first public appearance after his return to Ukraine was at the Donetsk coal mine where he had been director, according to the newspaper Den (Day). After being greeted with flowers, he said, "As a national deputy of Ukraine, my conscience is clear." He said that in his 38 years as a mine worker, administrator, then mayor of Donetsk and later a deputy to the Verkhovna Rada he had "worked honestly." His biggest mistake: entering politics.
The former prime minister, who served in 1993-1994, told the miners he would return to his work in the Verkhovna Rada but would never accept another government position.
Although Mr. Zviahilskyi did not explain why he had returned to Ukraine - where his legal standing as a Verkhovna Rada deputy is uncertain because he now carries both Israeli and Ukrainian citizenship, and where his legislative immunity could still be lifted should evidence surface that he was involved in illegal dealings - conjecture in the gossip-filled Kyiv press is that President Leonid Kuchma is involved.
Articles have appeared in the last week that suggest Mr. Kuchma arranged the return of Mr. Zviahilskyi to gain the confidence of the Donetsk political clan, which is second in importance only to the Dnipropetrovsk clan from which Mr. Kuchma himself came, but which is now headed by Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. Lately, the president has been at odds with Mr. Lazarenko over the pace of economic reform and has accused the prime minister of being soft on corruption within government ranks.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, March 9, 1997, No. 10, Vol. LXV
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