Ukraine’s State Investigative Bureau destroyed secret documents pertaining to major criminal cases, including against leading political figures, hours before and after Russia’s invasion in February, three law enforcement sources told Current Time.
It is unclear whether the documents were destroyed to prevent them from falling into the hands of Russian forces or to hinder prosecution of the cases.
The material destroyed involved investigations into former President Petro Poroshenko; Viktor Medvedchuk, a deputy who is a close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin; as well as Oleksandr Yakimenko, the former head of Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) who ordered the shooting of protesters in Kyiv in 2014.
The State Investigative Bureau, which probes non-corruption crimes committed by top officials and is similar to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI), said it could not immediately comment on the allegations and requested 20 working days to respond.
However, the Prosecutor-General's Office on July 8 confirmed in a statement to Current Time that "some material containing secret information from the criminal cases in question...was destroyed by the Department of Information Security of the State Investigative Bureau." The office added that prosecutors working on the cases "were not consulted about the destruction of the material."
The Prosecutor-General's Office added that prosecutors are currently attempting to reconstruct the destroyed information using archived case files.
According to an internal law enforcement memo received by Current Time from one of the law enforcement sources, documents pertaining to 140 criminal cases were withdrawn from the State Investigative Bureau’s headquarters in Kyiv at 1:30 a.m. on February 24, just two and a half hours before Russia launched its invasion.
Some of the documents were destroyed in Kyiv while the rest were taken to Khmelnytskiy, a town 350 kilometers southwest of the capital.
Investigative Bureau chief Oleksiy Sukhachov traveled to Khmelnytskiy later that morning and approved the destruction of the rest of the material, which took place over the course of two days, according to the internal memo.
Among the material destroyed were 500 pieces of covert evidence, such as secretive audio and video recordings.
Serhiy Horbatyuk, a former prosecutor, questioned why material was destroyed in Khmelnytskiy if the city was not in danger of being sacked by Russian forces.
He said if there was a threat to the city, Investigative Bureau officials should have safely transported the documents further west.
“If they were destroyed, it would not only be illegal, there would be criminal liability for noncompliance or destruction of secret material,” he said.
Vitaliy Tytych, a Ukrainian lawyer, told Current Time there should be an investigation to determine what happened and why. Current Time is the Russian-language channel run by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.
The material destroyed also included an investigation into former President Viktor Yanukovych’s controversial 2010 deal with former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, as well as a probe into the repeated transfer of military equipment, including fighter jets and helicopters, to Russia between 1992 and 2014 that undermined Ukraine’s armed forces, the sources said.
Yanukovych and Medvedev agreed that Russia would sell Ukraine natural gas below market prices in exchange for Ukraine agreeing to extend Russia’s lease of the Black Sea naval port in Crimea until 2042.
The deal sparked outrage among Western-leaning politicians in Ukraine. Russia used its naval sources in Crimea to seize and annex the peninsula in 2014 from Ukraine.
The internal memo stated that the destruction of the documents made it “doubtful” that the investigations could be continued and the cases eventually brought to court.
Horbatyuk said the destruction of the material would “significantly hinder” the prosecution of the cases but not bring it to a close.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy appointed Sukhachov as head of the State Investigative Bureau on December 31 following a selection process that some activists said was rigged.
He had been serving as acting chief since September 2020.
Sukhachov worked at the SBU from 2000 to 2017 and then at the Prosecutor-General's Office from 2017 to 2019.
He was fired from the latter after he failed to pass a test of legal knowledge as part of a vetting procedure.
Sukhachov is believed to be a protege of Oleh Tatarov, who was the deputy head of the main investigation department of the Interior Ministry under Yanukovych.