No sooner had the MPs unblocked the Verkhovna Rada, than it was “occupied” again on March 5. And again it was done by the opposition. This time it was blocked because of attempts to deprive Batkivshchyna MP Serhii Vlasenko of his credentials. On Tuesday, the Supreme Administrative Court considered the filing submitted by the Verkhovna Rada Speaker Volodymyr Rybak on stripping Vlasenko and (surprisingly) the Party of Regions MP Andrii Verevsky of their mandates. The court session on the former was rescheduled. Concerning the latter, the court satisfied the claim (the MP combined work in the Verkhovna Rada Committee on Agrarian Policy and Land Relations with being a chair of the board of directors at Kernel Holding S.A.). This is not the first such decision of the Supreme Administrative Court. Recently, it deprived unaffiliated MPs Oleksandr Dombrovsky and Pavlo Baloha of their credentials in a similar way (the court found the results of parliamentary elections in single-member districts No. 11 [Vinnytsia] and No. 71 [Zakarpattia oblast] invalid). However, in the case of Verevsky, the last word still rests with the parliament, which has to vote for elimination of his mandate, while the court obliged the Central Election Committee to do this in the cases of Dombrovsky and Baloha.
The old story comes back again. While the government and the opposition are fighting, the country’s image is tarnished. Just a week ago, the president came back from Brussels, where he was once again told that the Association Agreement would not be signed until the justice system problem was solved. And then the Vlasenko case comes up right away. Europe has already reacted. Catherine Ashton, vice president of the European Commission, and Stefan Fuele, EU Commissioner for European Policy, expressed their concern over the situation with Vlasenko. And the German Foreign Ministry summoned the Ambassador of Ukraine Pavlo Klimkin for a conversation. According to Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the German Foreign Ministry is worried over the increasing pressure on Yulia Tymoshenko’s lawyer. It seems that someone crosses Viktor Yanukovych up. But who can that be, if he holds full power in his hands?
Now, concerning the opposition. It would be nice to avoid criticizing it once again, but its behavior raises questions too. The thing is that the government’s behavior is clear, it has always been like this. But why does the opposition make such mistakes? It knows that the government watches its every step, why does it provide reasons for accusations? Why did Vlasenko not settle his legal practice issues in time? “To be honest, Vlasenko missed a serious regulation here,” said the representative of the Party of Regions Volodymyr Oliinyk at the “Freedom of Speech” show on ICTV channel. “Last year, we passed a law on legal profession and lawyering. Its transitional provisions said (the law entered into force on August 15, by the way) that those who are MPs and lawyers at the same time, must submit an application confirming the suspension of their legal practice within a 90 days limit. This limit was over for Vlasenko on November 12, 2012. And after that, he was violating the law. And if you say ‘But I have fixed that already,’ it does not matter, because you have already violated the law and there are legal consequences of that.”
Although Vlasenko and his defense state that he has not been engaged in legal practice for a long time, it was the combination of lawyering and work as an MP gave Rybak grounds to appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court (based on the session of the Regulations Committee, which, by the way, caused a scandal: the opposition considered the meeting to be illegitimate) with a request to deprive Vlasenko of his mandate. This is what the journalist Serhii Leshchenko wrote on his Facebook page in relation to this: “In fact, the example of the Vlasenko case shows that the opposition is reaping the fruit of its own greed. Two months ago, Batkivshchyna gave the Regulations Committee to the Party of Regions for the Committee on Fuel and Energy Complex, which is of no use to anyone except for Yatseniuk’s sidekick Mykola Martynenko.”
The opposition is being criticized so often because it presents itself as an alternative to the present situation, but it often uses the same methods as the government. The difference is that the Party of Regions does it openly and the opposition covers it up with its status of being opposition. In other words, this is nothing but a show that often damages the country’s image.
THE SUPREME ADMINISTRATIVE COURT OF UKRAINE WENT BEYOND ITS POWERS
Mykola KATERYNCHUK, MP, Batkivshchyna:
“Vlasenko, as an MP, is protected by a special law ‘On the Status of the People’s Deputy of Ukraine.’ When he registered as a candidate for MP, he passed a check of all available information submitted by him, including information about his employment, the ability to practice law. The Central Election Committee carried out the inspection. If there were any violations, the Committee would tell the candidate for MP Vlasenko that some action must be taken because it is written in the law. But the Central Election Committee never did that, because there was no legal basis for that.
“Concerning the Regulations Committee of the Verkhovna Rada, it involves a blatant violation of procedural rules on the participants, place, and the manner in which the committee was assembled. Everything was gone in a way that does not meet the law ‘On Regulations of the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine.’ From legal point of view, the committee meeting never happened. Therefore, there can be no legal consequences resulting from its decision. And this means that Rybak has no grounds to send any claims to court.
“The Supreme Administrative Court exceeded its authority in the cases of Dombrovsky and Baloha. The same applies to the Vlasenko case. This decision will not have legal consequences for MPs. In order to deprive an MP of immunity and the status of an MP, a vote in the Verkhovna Rada is required. The Supreme Administrative Court tried to settle this through the Central Election Committee in the cases of Dombrovsky and Baloha, but the committee did not do this because it had no legal grounds for that, and the court’s decision exceeded the Central Election Committee’s authority. Nobody would engage in a state crime while executing a clearly illegal decision.
“I think that the Vlasenko issue belongs to the political area, not the legal one. This is reprisal for the effective defense provided to Tymoshenko and an attempt to weaken the former prime minister’s position in the Shcherban case. As a result, they want to suspend the situation, detain Vlasenko, and remove him from the criminal trial on the murder of Shcherban. In any case, Vlasenko remains an MP until the moment the Verkhovna Rada takes a vote that changes it. This is a constitutional provision. There is a complete list of cases when and under what circumstances an MP is deprived of immunity and his mandate. That is why nothing can happen to Vlasenko without Verkhovna Rada’s decision and vote. If this regulation is violated, Vlasenko will go to court.”
ADVOCACY IS NOT SCIENCE
Dmytro SHPENOV, MP, Party of Regions:
“From a legal point of view, an MP can only be engaged in parliamentary activities and science at the same time. Advocacy is not science. I have not seen the materials that were sent to court. But I have seen Vlasenko’s numerous statements about being Yulia Tymoshenko’s lawyer. This leads us to a conclusion that Vlasenko was directly engaged in legal practice. But it is clearly not allowed to practice law. As far as I know, Vlasenko never wrote an application to terminate his license for advocacy. Having a right to practice advocacy and working under the license are two very different things. This is the major violation.
“As for me personally and my colleagues, I can say the following [the opposition submitted an application to the Regulations Committee about depriving MP authority of a number of Party of Regions’ moonlighters, Shpenov being one of them. – Author]: I have direct evidence that my legal practice is suspended. You can find this information by looking at the register of lawyers on the National Association of Advocates’ website. I sent a corresponding application to the Commission of Advocacy of Ukraine in Kharkiv Oblast in November last year. Concerning my colleagues, we all know that Verevsky was deprived of his mandate by the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine too. He is a member of Party of Regions. The law is the same for everyone.”
IT IS HARD TO COMMENT UPON THE GOVERNMENT’S ACTIONS FROM THE LEGAL POINT OF VIEW
Oleh BEREZIUK, president of the Ukrainian Law Society:
“In Vlasenko’s case, it is more about politics than law. There are big problems with the advocacy institution in Ukraine. There were two meetings, the National Association of Lawyers was to be created, but it never happened. A part of lawyers supported one side, while the rest supported the other. Thus, the law provision was not fulfilled, and the law does not work.
“Depriving Vlasenko of his mandate because of not stopping legal practice is nonsense. He submitted an application, and this is enough to assume he does not combine the post of an MP and advocacy. Basically, nothing changed when Vlasenko wrote the application. There is the Constitution, which has a higher legal power. It clearly indicates reasons which can lead to stripping an MP of his or her status. But the incumbent government ignores the Constitution and law in general.
“It is hard to comment on the government’s actions from the legal point of view. It passes laws, and so it breaks them. Just remember how the government brought the Constitution of 1996 back into force. The Constitutional Court had no right to do that. There are a lot of people among the Party of Regions MPs who occupy several administrative posts. For example, Andrii Portnov occupies administrative posts in the Presidential Administration and the Taras Shevchenko University.
“The decision of the Administrative Court is absolutely illegal. Actually, the Prosecutor’s Office has to start a criminal case against the judges who passed this decision, but it will not happen, because we all know who the Prosecutor’s Office is subject to.”