KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian lawmakers on Thursday appointed a close ally of President Petro Poroshenko with no legal background as general prosecutor, a position seen by the West as crucial for Kiev’s plans to tackle entrenched corruption.
To shouts of “shame” from some lawmakers, Poroshenko told parliament that his ally, Yuriy Lutsenko, a former interior minister and head of Poroshenko’s parliamentary faction, would build public trust in the prosecution service.
The appointment may disappoint the European Commission, which like the United States and the International Monetary Fund, has tied aid to Ukraine to Kiev’s performance on corruption and reforms. Brussels had urged Poroshenko to nominate someone seen as independent who had a legal background.
The vote coincided with the visit of an IMF mission to Kiev for talks on disbursing a tranche of aid worth $1.7 billion.
Poroshenko cancelled a trip to an anti-corruption forum in London this week to focus on appointing a new top prosecutor and passing reforms needed to convince the IMF that Kiev was serious about restarting its stuttering reform programme.
Lawmakers had earlier passed a law removing a requirement that only a person with a legal background can fill the post.
Lutsenko told parliament he was keen to “break the current inefficient and partly criminal system”.
Poroshenko squeezed out the previous top prosecutor, Viktor Shokhin. On his watch the general prosecutor’s office was widely criticised for hampering anti-corruption reforms.
Leonid Kozachenko, a lawmaker from Poroshenko’s faction, told Reuters he expected the EU to show an initial “lack of understanding” over the appointment, adding: “But I hope this conflict will disappear when Lutsenko begins real investigations.”
Lutsenko was prominent in Ukraine’s 2004 “Orange Revolution” which frustrated pro-Moscow Viktor Yanukovich’s first bid for the presidency, but fell victim to Ukraine’s vengeful politics when Yanukovich finally took power in 2010.
He was subsequently jailed for embezzlement and abuse of office, though his defenders said the sentence was politically motivated. He was released in April 2013 on health grounds.
After the “Maidan” street revolt toppled Yanukovich in February 2014 and ushered in a pro-Western leadership under Poroshenko, Lutsenko joined Poroshenko’s political bloc.
His career has had its colourful moments. In May 2009 he resigned as interior minister after being detained by police at Frankfurt airport for being drunk and disorderly, although the ministry denied the incident had taken place.
“All his actions will be an imitation of work,” said Yegor Sobolev, a lawmaker from the reformist Samopomich party, which quit Ukraine’s ruling coalition this year.
“The basic idea is making sure that nothing gets done. It is clear that the oligarchs will be untouchable, that the basic units of kleptocracy in the SBU (security service), courts and the prosecutor offices will also remain intact.”
Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones