Victims of Ukrainian Security Service: Our task in court is not to allow the arrest of the savings of Jews from Donetsk
A month ago the Jewish population of Ukraine was stirred up by an open letter by Rabbi Pinkhas Vyshedshki (Chief Rabbi of Donbass) to the leadership of the country, The rabbi complained that money had been stolen from members of the Jewish community by officers of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). The rabbi’s letter was published one and a half months after the incident, when it became clear that the court investigation on this issue had been “put on hold”.
“In December of last year, the Jewish community of Donbass was shaken up by events that took place at one Kiev bank. Under strange circumstances, large sums were stolen from safe boxes, including money belonging to Donetsk refugees.
On 22 December, law-enforcement officers entered a bank on Proreznaya Street, and broke into the depository, using force, destroying video cameras and entry detectors. The boxes were opened without an investigator, witnesses and bank employees. During the “search” the entire contents of the boxes disappeared, including boxes in which Jewish refugees from Donetsk kept their savings.
One month later the investigation had not made any progress, and neither had the court investigation. In my opinion, this situation requires the close attention of the Ukrainian authorities.
Ukraine has at last taken a European path. The aggressor is destroying our homes and killing our sons in the East, and meanwhile corruption and lawlessness are not only undermining the foundations of the state, they are killing any hope for the future.
I consider it necessary to draw this to the attention of the President, the Prime Minister, the Head of the Supreme Rada, heads of the Ukrainian Security Service, the Interior Ministry and the General Prosecutor’s Office. I call on state bodies to ensure lawfulness, to guarantee a transparent investigation and a fair trial, and to assist the return of the stolen funds to their lawful owners.
With gratitude for establishing peace and the prosperity of Ukraine
Chief Rabbi of Donbass”
Rabbi Pinkhas Vyshedski explained: “The depositors and owners of the stolen money are private individuals, Jews from Donetsk, who attended our synagogue and were part of the community. They went to Kiev, a city that was not familiar to them. They didn’t go there because they wanted to, but because they were forced to leave their native Donetsk, taking what they had with them. While the state of their homes in the East were uncertain, many of them decided to repatriate to Israel. They had savings. According to Ukrainian law, a person cannot take more than $10,000 out of the country. And if they had more, where could they leave the money, where could they keep their last savings?
Community members asked me this question [author: according to Jewish tradition, when members of the synagogue face doubts on any earthly question, they go to their rabbi for advice). I asked a respected person in our community, Sergei Nuzbrokh, to help these people. I’ve known him for 20 years. He was on the board of trustees of the Donetsk Jewish community, he is known as a helpful and very decent person, who has taken part in the life of the community for many years, and helped the synagogue and its members. So people trust him.”
The value of the community lies in the fact that people are not left to face their problems on their own in any life situation. Trust in the Jewish community is priceless, and it really needs to be earned, just like a recommendation from the rabbi. According to Sergei, he advised people to keep their funds according to the same method that he has used for a long time himself: to put the money in a safety deposit box. This decision helped refugees to collect their funds when they needed them: “I was given money to keep under pledge,” says Sergei Yakovlevich. “We placed the sum that we were given in a safety deposit box at Alliance Bank. By December 2014, twelve members of the community had collected all the funds they had entrusted to me. Only six people still kept their funds there, along with my personal funds. Could anyone imagine that law-enforcement officers would rob citizens in broad daylight in the center of Kiev? … [sighs]. What protection should the bank have then, if the state itself attacks it!?..”
The case has now been sent to the Kiev court of appeal. This jewishnews.com.ua correspondent attended one hearing, but the examination of the case was yet again postponed.
Sergei Nuzbrokh moved from Donetsk in April last year, after selling property in Donetsk. He also kept the money that he earned from this in the safety deposit box at Alliance Bank that was opened by the law-enforcement officers. He says that for the last two months he has been trying to get the money back which was stolen with numerous violations made during the search. He discussed this in an interview with Jewish News.
A brief report about the search order:
The search warrant for Alliance Bank was issued on 10 December 2014 by the Pechersky court of Kiev in response to a statement by investigator Dmitry Alexeenko. He intended to find evidence of violations by a number of “fictitious” companies suspected of organizing a “conversion center”. In the court finding (photo below) Alexeenko gives a list of suspects on the case: 69 legal and 9 private individuals (with indication of the passport details of the latter). The court permitted an investigation of the persons listed in the investigator’s statement, and satisfied the investigator’s request to conduct a search at Alliance Bank and to confiscate evidence pertaining to the investigation, but “partially”.
Sergei Yakovlevich, what does “partially” mean?
The court decree permits confiscation of information stored in digital and magnetic form, documents and seals. That’s right! But the decree did not permit money to be confiscated! Also, all the indoor video cameras were smashed in the search, to conceal evidence of the theft, all the equipment of the bank was arrested and all the material valuables were taken from the four safety deposit boxes they opened. A part of the sum that was in my box was recorded in a document, but part of it was not. In other words, it was simply stolen. As the confiscation was illegal, they once more appealed to the court to arrest the sum indicated in the report (post factum). We are currently trying to stop them from arresting the funds of people who did not have anything to do with the investigation during which the search took place. For from the very beginning, the SBU did not have the right to touch their property without special permission to do so from the court.
At the last hearing, the plaintiff could not answer the direct question from the judge as to why your safety deposit box was opened. Were you robbed “to keep someone company”?
We have also asked this question. In the court finding for the search, there was a precise list of the private individuals whose boxes could be opened and the contents of which could be removed. My surname did not appear among the people in the SBU’s criminal proceedings! But my box was broken open, and the funds from it disappeared. In the criminal case under which the search warrant was issued, there was one woman who had an account in this bank. She hasn’t used it for a long time, and there had been no recent transactions in it.
There are several more companies among the bank’s clients who were indirectly suspected of “collections” and were declared to be “fictitious” by the investigator. We checked them on the register. They are legitimate and functioning firms with turnover, taxes, personnel and storage facilities. But if there is something wrong here, what is going on?
Does this mean that if you’re in the same metro wagon as a pickpocket, then you automatically become a criminal, because you were standing nearby?
Why do you suspect officers from the SBU “Alfa” division of the theft?
Before the officers entered the bank, the boxes were closed, and after they left they were open and empty. The investigator entered the depository after the officers from the SBU “Alfa” division left it – they held a search without witnesses and bank employees. Some of the funds were “indicated” in the document – the money that was found in a bag that was abandoned after the search. The cash was not counted correctly, the sum indicated in the report was much lower than the amount that was placed in the box. Some of the money was taken out of the box without reporting it – which means it was stolen.
Were there other violations committed by the investigator and SBU officers during the search?
Plenty! For example, there was no specification of where exactly the funds were confiscated (only the address – 8 Proreznaya Street). There are several structures at this address, including “Metrobud”. There is no list of what the officers confiscated, there is a separate column for this type of description… The bank employees also wrote comments on the document. We were not allowed to make this addition to the materials of the case, but in court we managed to have these comments included in the case.
Who else suffered from the actions by the SBU?
The Bank “Alliance” is suing them separately, and so am I, and other people who came to the bank on the day of the search to deposit their savings there. These people had their money taken from them at the entrance. But at least the sum that was taken from them is recorded correctly in the report. All of their statements have been included in the materials of the case.
Did the bank conduct an internal investigation?
Yes, before 30 December the bank’s security service held an internal service investigation, and the results were attached to the case. In the materials gathered, many violations can be seen in the officers’ actions during the search. Furthermore, in the confiscated recordings from the external video surveillance cameras – they were not destroyed, unlike the internal ones – it is clearly visible when the SBU officers entered, and when the witnesses did, and what the interval of time between these event was; you can see them carrying bags out and putting them in a vehicle, etc.
So there is indirect evidence, if there were any desire to carry out an objective investigation.
Here was a Security Camera
Although before the New Year we made a complaint to the SBU about its officers’ actions. They promised to carry out an internal investigation. And on 10 January we received a note stating that the SBU “had acted within the boundaries of the law”. Everyone understands that this was just a formality: the first days of January were holidays. Could a proper investigation be carried out in a few days, and was it carried out at all? I doubt it! Among the names of the people who owned the deposit boxes that were opened, there is not a single one on the list of suspects announced by the SBU.
It looks like a real corruption scheme, where the prosecutor’s office, court and special divisions are involved. According to unofficial information, another four banks were “raided” in the same way.
Now the case has been sent to the Court of Appeal. Previously the Pechersky district court examined the statement of the law-enforcement bodies which wanted to “legalize” the arrest of the unlawfully confiscated items. Two days after the search this request was made, as legislation requires. But officers did not appear at the examination of the case, and intentionally delayed the process. On 27 January, the Pechersky court permitted the SBU to arrest the confiscated items. In that time the dollar grew by 30%, and so members of the Jewish community lost one third of the sum that was kept in hryvnia.
In this trial, our main task is not to allow the arrest of the illegally confiscated savings of members of the Jewish community of Donetsk.
These are the savings that were recorded in the report during confiscation, but what about the rest?
I hope that they will also be returned, or we will put those responsible in jail. We are taking all lawful measures to have the money returned to members of the Jewish community who fled from Donetsk. We waited for the law-enforcement bodies to admit their mistake for one and a half month, and give back the money, but with no result. Today the case has become a sensation in the press. There is also informal contact with representatives of power, as here the “honor of the uniform” is at stake! We hope that this actually means something for our law-enforcement bodies, and that they will settle the issue with their “light-fingered” colleagues, and that people will have their savings returned.
The head of the prosecutor’s office refused to comment on the state bodies’ position on this case.
At the last hearing the plaintiff from the SBU was the last to speak, who said that the money from the boxes was confiscated and arrested “according to a letter from the head of the main department of the SBU”, and that the court would find all the justifications for the officers’ actions in the materials of the criminal case. The hearing was postponed for an examination of this data.
The next hearing is schedule for 18 February. Jewishnews.com.ua will follow this high-profile case.
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