Interpol takes deposed Ukraine leader off wanted list
Ukraine vowed on Wednesday to fight to ensure the return and trial of its exiled Russian-backed president after his name was unexpectedly removed from Interpol's international most wanted list.
The former Soviet state’s leader Viktor Yanukovych was toppled by a wave of bloody protests and fled to Russia with the help of Kremlin security agents in February 2014.
Yanukovych was originally accused by Kiev’s new pro-Western leaders of ordering police to open fire on the demonstrators in the waning hours of his rule. More than 100 people — many of them unarmed — died in the carnage.
But Interpol in January placed Yanukovych on its “red notice” list for “misappropriation, embezzlement or conversion of property by malversation” because it lacked the criminal authority to open the more severe charges sought by Ukraine.
The international police organisation removed Yanukovych’s name from its website on Tuesday after his lawyers filed an appeal that is due to come up for a hearing in September.
A spokesman for Interpol at its headquarters in the French city of Lyon said the “suspension means that the Red Notice is not accessible to any member country searching Interpol’s databases, and has been removed from the ‘wanted persons’ section on the Interpol website for the duration of the review”.
Defence attorneys at London’s Joseph Hage Aaronson law firm said the ruling was made “on the basis that criminal charges brought by the new regime in Ukraine against president Yanukovych were part of a pattern of political persecution of him”.
The decision means Ukraine must now submit further evidence to substantiate its case.
– ‘Exclusively political’ –
Prosecutors and senior officials vowed to redouble their efforts despite doubts that Russia — already forced to deny charges of orchestrating Ukraine’s eastern separatist crisis in revenge for Yanukovych’s ouster — will ever return him to Kiev.
“He can hire 300 attorneys to drag out this process,” Ukrainian defence ministry advisor and top lawmaker Anton Gerashchenko told AFP.
“Our goal now is to compile a set of documents, to present evidence that will make everything immediately clear to the fair and just French court.”
The prosecutor general’s office said on Tuesday that it would “insist on the re-establishment of the international search” for the war-torn country’s most wanted man.
Yanukovych himself has repeatedly denied issuing orders for his crack forces to shoot at the pro-European crowds that occupied parts of central Kiev in the winter of 2013-2014.
He also rejects accusations of having embezzled state property or diverted vast federal budget sums to outfit a dazzling mansion — now open to the public as a testament to past corruption — with ostentatious decorations and gold.
An unnamed senior Moscow official told the Interfax news agency that “Russia from the very start… had insisted the criminal proceedings by Kiev’s new authorities against the old leadership were exclusively political in nature”.
And one of Interpol’s former Ukrainian branch directors said he doubted that Kiev had the wherewithal to convince the global police agency to reinstate Yanukovych’s name on its notice list.
“Yanukovych is a rich man who can hire loads of attorneys who know how to properly study the documents (submitted by Kiev) and find the necessary loopholes,” Kyrylo Kulikov told AFP by phone.
“Now everything depends on our professionalism, about which I am sceptical.”
An Interpol red notice requires member states to “seek the location and arrest of wanted persons with a view to extradition or similar lawful action”.