How Manafort case is an indictment of Ukrainian law enforcement
Ukraine's leaders should take a lesson from the U.S. criminal indictments of Paul Manafort and Rick Gates, and the guilty plea of George Papadopoulos, all announced on Oct. 30. The contrasts are glaring. Ukrainian authorities have been putting up smokescreens with diversionary debates over such bogus issues as the authenticity of signatures on the "Black Ledger," ex-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych's record of $2 billion in illegal payments uncovered last June. They have a long history of obstructing justice with such ruses. Anybody remember the debates over the authenticity of the Melnychenko tapes, which showed ex-President Leonid Kuchma running the nation like a mafia thug?
By contrast, U. S. Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller has shown how a professional works. His team got search warrants. They secured tax and bank transfer records that they allege will prove that Manafort and his protégé, Gates, received $75 million in illicit payments from Ukraine. Manafort worked as a Yanukovych and Party of Regions adviser from 2006 to 2014, then helped the Regions' holdovers form the Opposition Bloc in 2015, before before becoming manager of Donald J. Trump's successful 2016 presidential campaign.
Mueller also got evidence against Papadopoulos, a Trump foreign policy adviser, who pleaded guilty on Oct. 5 to lying about meetings he had with Russians as early as March 2016 over hacked emails from Hillary Clinton. Then they offered Papadopoulous a plea bargain to get him to "flip," or giving evidence of criminal wrongdoing against others.
Of course, the biggest difference between America's judicial system and Ukraine is that Ukraine's police, prosecutors and judges are not supposed to seek justice or punish those who steal billions of dollars and murder people with impunity. They're supposed to preserve and protect the insiders who steal — keeping the kleptocratic oligarchy in place. President Petro Poroshenko, since coming to power on June 7, 2014, has been mightily resisting an independent legal system.
So Ukrainians continue to be impoverished needlessly by their corrupt elite. Some $40 billion went out during the Yanukovych era from 2010 to 2014, when it was brought to an end by the EuroMaidan Revolution. Some $20 billion was taken from Ukraine's banks, without a single bank fraud conviction. Billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky's theft of $6 billion from PrivatBank is Exhibit A. There's also shady business going on today in the nation's $5 billion security and defense budget.
Western nations, favored destinations of ill-gotten gains, often cannot crack down on suspicious or illegal money unless Ukrainian authorities develop criminal cases against the culprits at home and forward the evidence. That almost never happens, even though evidence of corruption and theft is abundant if Ukrainian law enforcers really wanted to find it.
Poroshenko relies on the primary justice blockers — Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and Security Service of Ukraine head Vasyl Hrytsak. The new anti-corruption institutions become convenient scapegoats and excuses for why the regular institutions — with 150,000 police officers and investigators, 15,000 prosecutors, 9,000 judges and 40,000 special service agents — aren't doing their jobs. While the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine may be doing its job, its work is ultimately pointless without trustworthy courts. All investigations are still controlled by the General Prosecutor's Office, including court verdicts. Instead of pursuing justice, these overstaffed Soviet holdovers harass opponents and corruption-fighting activists. They deter foreign investment by attacking entrepreneurs. There is no other reason for an economic unit of the Security Service of Ukraine.
America has had more success in fighting Ukrainian corruption than Ukraine. U.S. courts in 2006 convicted ex-Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko of laundering $114 million; he spent three years in prison. Now the U.S. justice system is going after Manafort. But the money allegedly stolen amounts to less than 1 percent of the theft during the Yanukovych era alone. In other words, there are hundreds of Ukrainian Manaforts getting off scot-free. This has dire consequences. If Yanukovych had been prosecuted for the 2004 election fraud that triggered the Orange Revolution, he would have been in prison instead of elected president in 2010. If Ukraine's law enforcers keep failing to confront corruption, Poroshenko will only have himself to blame if he loses re-election in 2019. Until Ukraine defeats its institutionalized corruption, the nation has no hope of being taken seriously by the West or investors. A victimized society will, moreover, justifiably always be on the brink of its next revolution.