Ukraine picks president's ally as prosecutor after bending law

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Kiev (AFP)

Ukraine's parliament confirmed an ally of President Petro Poroshenko as chief prosecutor Thursday after ignoring EU warnings and changing the law to let candidates without legal training serve in the crucial post.

The chief prosecutor's office has been widely condemned as dogged by corruption and in need of an overhaul for the former Soviet republic to move on its path toward closer European Union ties.

Disgraced prosecutor general Viktor Shokin stood down in the midst of a protracted crisis that came to a head in mid-April with the resignation of prime minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, and his replacement with Poroshenko protege Volodymyr Groysman.

Shokin was accused of blocking investigations into top officials who served under Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych prior to his February 2014 ouster in Ukraine's historic pro-Western revolt.

Several of Shokin's underlings were discovered hoarding piles of cash and diamonds in their apartments and are now facing trial.

The search for Shokin's replacement soon narrowed to Yuriy Lutsenko -- head of Poroshenko's group in parliament and an electrical engineer by training.

Lawmakers voted Thursday by 264 to 37 to approve Lutsenko's candidacy after first removing a provision that required the chief prosecutor to have legal training and at least 10 years of experience practising law.

Lutsenko has neither but did serve as interior minister twice in the past 11 years.

Poroshenko signed a decree making the 51-year-old's appointment formal minutes after the vote.

"We need a (political) heavyweight serving as chief prosecutor," Poroshenko told lawmakers before the vote.

But Lutsenko's promotion was condemned by one of the leaders of the 2014 revolution as a sign that cronyism and corruption were still running rampant under Poroshenko's rule.

"Could we have imagined two years ago that in a country where people went out on the streets in protest, including against corruption, we could see the prosecutor general chosen.... against the people's will," Mustafa Nayyem wrote on Facebook.

"This is our new reality, which is stripping us of any reason to be optimistic, to trust (the authorities), or to have any expectations."

The European Union had also rapped parliament's plans to change the legislation to suit the president's pick.

Ukrainians "expect the general prosecutor to be somebody who is familiar with legal questions and should have a background as a lawyer," EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said in Kiev on May 12.

Lutsenko himself vowed shortly before his confirmation that he would be "guided by a single principle -- the law is the same for all".