Ukraine parliament fires powerful security chief

Ukraine parliament fires powerful security chief
Head of Ukraine's state security service (SBU) Valentyn Nalivaichenko speaks during a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine, January 26, 2015.
PHOTO: Reuters

KIEV - Ukraine's parliament Thursday fired the powerful head of the SBU state security service after he fell foul of President Petro Poroshenko and became embroiled in a conflict with the nation's chief prosecutor.

"The Verkhovna Rada (parliament) supported my proposal to dismiss Valentyn Nalyvaychenko from his post as head of the SBU," Poroshenko tweeted after 248 lawmakers in the 450-seat chamber supported the president's formal request.

His dismissal highlights the fractured nature of Ukraine's politics and its continued reliance on clan-style alliances and battles that critics say drain attention from far more pressing concerns.

Ukraine's State Security Service enjoys sweeping arrest and domestic surveillance rights it inherited from the domestic branch of the Soviet-era KGB.

The 49-year-old Nalyvaychenko was appointed three months before Poroshenko's May 2014 election and was never seen as particularly close to the Western-backed head of state.

He also headed the SBU in 2006-2010 and is believed to have gathered reams of data related to corrupt dealings of both past and present lawmakers and members of government.

His dismissal comes with Ukraine's 14-month war against pro-Russian insurgents still raging and the economy continuing to implode - the consequence of years of mismanagement and inability to pass overdue restructuring measures long sought by the International Monetary Fund.

The IMF wanted lawmakers to focus their attention on passing a raft of economic measures that could keep the Fund's $17.5-billion (15.3-billion euro) rescue for Ukraine in place when its board addresses the issue in early July.

But political intriguers and counter-accusations of corruption ruled the day Thursday in the Ukrainian capital.

Big boxer enters fray

Kiev media reports said Poroshenko had recently tried to move Nalyvaychenko - seen as a close political ally of former boxer and current Kiev mayor Vitaly Klitschko - to the foreign intelligence service.

Nalyvaychenko is said to have refused and then launched a political counter-offensive that saw the prosecutor general's office accused of covering up corruption and illegal money making schemes operated by its most senior personnel.

He accused a former deputy prosecutor general of illicitly owning a chain of filling stations whose storage tanker exploded near Kiev last week. The disaster killed five people and set off the region's biggest fire in decades.

Poroshenko then cancelled Nalyvaychenko's planned visit to Washington and ordered him to show up at the prosecutor general's office for questioning at the start of the week.

The president's parliamentary allies began airing their own accusations of corruption against the SBU head. These included forging ties with shadowy billionaires and soon helping them pilfer cash from the state's main oil and natural gas firm.

Nalyvaychenko denied all the charges but appeared to know what was coming next.

He posted a message on Klitschko's UDAR (Punch) party website pronouncing himself ready to "grit his death" and comply with the president's resignation request.

Klitschko said the former SBU chief now intended "to enter politics".

'Oligarchs unite'

Some young lawmakers who played an integral part in 2014 protests that ousted a Russian-backed president whom many viewed as corrupt warned that Ukraine had moved on little from those painful times.

Mustafa Nayyem - a charismatic 33-year-old blogger who helped launched the winter street protests before being elected to parliament as part of Poroshenko's team - said many had grown disillusioned with the president's seeming failure to dislodge the grip of criminals and tycoons on politics.

"I fear that a broad coalition of oligarchs is on the horizon," Nayyem wrote on Facebook.

"The solidarity of oligarchs who had been removed from power may prove to be much stronger than we thought," said Nayyem.

Poroshenko has already fired one billionaire who built a massive empire stretching from energy products to the media, from his post as governor of Dnipropetrovsk - a peaceful and relatively wealthy region offering a buffer between Kiev and militia-controlled lands.

"I fear that by trying to remove the oligarchs from power, (Poroshenko) has only united them against himself," Kiev political analyst Mykola Davydyuk added.

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