Ukrainian prosecutors said yesterday that they had charged a high-ranking regional official with organising a deadly acid attack on a prominent anti-corruption activist that prompted widespread outrage.
Kateryna Gandzyuk, an adviser to the mayor of the southern city of Kherson, was an outspoken critic of corruption in law enforcement agencies.
She was attacked in July and had about a litre of acid poured on her.
The 33-year-old died in November after months of treatment, including more than 10 operations.
Her murder sparked shock and uproar with activists accusing the authorities of failing to complete the investigation or identify the mastermind.
Yesterday, less than two months before Ukrainians go to the polls to elect a president, General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko pointed the finger at the head of the regional council in the southern region of Kherson, Vladyslav Manger.
“It was he who ordered and partially organised this crime by financing it,” Lutsenko told a news conference.
According to the charge sheet released by Lutsenko, Manger was guided by “personal animosity” because Gandzyuk opposed “illegal logging” in the region.
Lutsenko said that the prosecution had obtained enough testimony from witnesses about Manger’s role, adding that the attackers had received “no less than $4,000”.
In August, police authorities detained five people, three of whom were placed under house arrest.
In November, a former aide to a ruling party lawmaker was arrested on suspicion of involvement.
Lutsenko’s spokeswoman Larysa Sargan said that Manger was accused of “intentionally and unlawfully causing the death of another person ... with special cruelty and by prior agreement with a group of individuals”.
Speaking to AFP, Sargan said that Manger had not been arrested, adding: “Searches are under way in Kherson.”
If found guilty, the 48-year-old faces up to life in prison.
Manger has insisted that he did not know Gandzyuk personally, and claimed that he had no ties to her.
“I am ready to answer all questions from investigators,” he said in televised remarks. “I am not going to go anywhere and will fully cooperate with the investigation.”
Today a Kyiv court is expected to consider a request from the prosecution to formally arrest him.
Manger was a member of the Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, a key rival of President Petro Poroshenko in the March 31 presidential election.
He was expelled from the party last week.
Gandzyuk’s death has sparked condemnation of the government and drawn renewed attention to dozens of assaults on other anti-corruption campaigners in the country over recent months.
Both the European Union and the United States have called the attacks on activists unacceptable and urged authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice.
Activists accuse police and prosecutors of dragging their feet, insisting the detention of those possibly involved only happened after a wave of protests across the country.
Lutsenko in November submitted a letter of resignation to Poroshenko but the Ukrainian leader refused to fire him.
More than 50 attacks on anti-graft activists, environmental and human rights campaigners including five murders were recorded last year.
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