Prosecutor looking at options for talking to Slava Ukraini whistle-blower

NGO Slava Ukraini.
NGO Slava Ukraini. Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

The Prosecutor's Office is attempting to get statements from a whistle-blower currently under house arrest in Ukraine, relating to allegations of suspicious transactions involving NGO Slava Ukraini and its partners in that country.

State prosecutor Triinu Olev told ERR on Thursday, via a spokesperson, that: "The Prosecutor's Office and the police are now aware that [Oleksandr] Tšernov wanted to come to Estonia before the procedural actions carried out with him in Ukraine [took place] in order to testify here in connection with the possible misuse of donations."

"We are working to make it possible to question them under the changed circumstances, i.e. after their being subject to a ban on leaving their residence, in Ukraine."

The whistle-blower, Oleksandr Tšernov, was placed under house arrest late last week after an RPG-type weapon was reportedly found in his car. Tšernov says this was a plant and that he fears for his safety.

Tšernov had been helping the Estonian Prosecutor's Office with the investigation into the alleged misuse of funds donated to NGO Slava Ukraini, whose CEO, Johanna-Maria Lehtme, has been suspended.

Olev said that Estonia could not offer witness protection, given the circumstances.

Olev also defended the Prosecutor's Office decision to commence criminal proceedings against Slava Ukraini on May 9, several weeks after the initial suspicions had become public, in early March.

Olve said that law enforcement agencies had been scrutinizing the goings on at Slava Ukraini since the allegations first became public and had been analyzing information from various sources, to ascertain if any intentional crime had been committed and if so of what kind.

"As soon as the information which provided grounds for starting criminal proceedings arrived, we did just that," Olev added.

Last month it became apparent that Slava Ukraini had transferred €1.5 million in donations collected from people in Estonia who wished to help Ukraine, to a shadowy company on the ground in that country, called IC Construction.

IC Construction has links to Slava Ukraini's partner NGO, Vsje dlja Peremogi ("All for Victory").

The company turned a profit of €250,000 last year, though its listed owner is a fictional person and its only stated activity relates to Slava Ukraini.

Tšernov, who is being detained by regional police in Dnipro rather than the national criminal police in Ukraine, says that invoices in respect of pacakged food, field ambulance conversions and many other types of work were significantly inflated, and also alleges that IC Construction has been linked to arms dealing.

IC Construction's real owner, Hennadi Vaskiv, is in fact Tšernov's former boss, when both worked in local government in the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

Tšernov says his house arrest is specifically an effort to prevent him coming to Estonia to testify, adding that his life and well-being is in danger.

The Riigikogu's special anti-corruption committee said Thursday that it will approach the government with a proposal that Tšernov be granted safe passage to Estonia and a safe haven once here.

Slava Ukraini CEO Johanna-Marie Lehtme, currently suspended from the role, ran on an pre-election campaign which expressly referenced her work as a supporter of Ukraine, for which she had received plenty of unquestioning plaudits in the media

She polled higher than any other Eesti 200 candidate at the March 5 election.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Thursday that as it does not deal with criminal cases, it cannot comment on the situation nor get involved in it.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Mait Ots

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