The future of Ukraine’s fight against corruption ption
Does Ukraine have a future without a successful anti-corruption fight? And could Ukraine influence other nations with victories in its war on corruption?
Ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections next year, Ukraine is being pressed hard to return to the days of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, where "untouchables" remained untouchable — and above the law.
Two events highlight antagonisms in the raging battle under way.
Sergiy Pototskyi, a 52-yearold entrepreneur who enrolled for Kyiv-Mohyla Academy's AntiCorruption Center certificate course, confessed to giving bribes to get things done. Then, a village leader asked for a $90,000 payment. Sergiy decided to put an end to the shameful practice. He partnered with the National AntiCorruption Bureau of Ukraine, known as NABU. The official was caught red-handed in May. This inspired Pototskyi to set up a nongovernmental organization to promote effective tools to fight corruption. He came to the program to learn what more he could do.
Simultaneously, 500 kilometers east of Kyiv, a top corruption case was being buried for good by the new Specialized Anti-
Corruption Prosecutor’s office and old courts. Over just a few months, NABU investigated an Hr 14 million embezzlement scheme involving Interior Minister Arsen Avakov's son, Oleksandr. Step-by-step, SAP magically turned it into an Hr 4 million fraud case against a scapegoat. Volodymyr Lyvtyn, who in conspiracy with Oleksandr Avakov, produced and sold to the state low-quality military backpacks. Lytvyn pleaded guilty and in exchange for softer punishment and providing evidence against another person — but not against Avakov's son or the deputy minister. Under the plea bargain, he conveniently implicated someone who died in 2015.
So the evidence collected by NABU against the big fish — the son of the nation's top cop and his deputy — will be never presented to public in the court. The criminal cases against Oleksandr Avakov and depu- ty interior minister were scandalously closed a few weeks ago by Nazar Kholodnytskyi, the severely compromised head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, who faces allegations of sabotaging many cases.
The first example, of Pototskyi, shows that Ukrainians will support changes when they start to believe they will actually happen.
But the second example, of the sabotaged case, shows that Ukraine still has its untouchables.
Voters challenge their politicians as they check their e-declarations of income and assets.
Investigative journalists get valuable information from property registries.
Civil society contests uncompetitive procurements. People appeal to NABU for help. But there is no public trust in the compromised National Agency for Corruption Prevention, the long-awaited new Supreme Court and, now, the Specialized AntiCorruption Prosecutor's Office, or SAPO.
While NABU is threatening corrupt elites and resisting enormous pressure, SAPO goal seems to be sabotaging these independent investigations of top corruption cases, making sure they don't prosecuted properly in court.
NABU is an investigative agency, set up to collect evidence in corruption crimes of top officials.
SAPO supervises all NABU investigations and presents collected evidence to the courts.
So why is there such a difference between these two new institutions?
To change the future we have to learn from the past.
International involvement and specific conditionalities of foreign aid played a leading role.
NABU director Artem Sytnyk was chosen by an independent panel.
SAPO chief Nazar Kholodnytskyi was selected by a commission involv- ing employees of the discredited and distrusted Prosecutor’s General Office. In fact, potential targets of SAPO cases were choosing its leadership. Would a turkey vote for Christmas? But Ukraine is not at a dead end. The way out of this morass is have independent investigation of the criminal case against Kholodnytskyi.
According to Ukrainska Pravda, one of the nation's leading news outlets, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko has been failing to sign a notice of suspicion for almost half a year.
And a new head of SAPO must be chosen strictly in line with International Monetary Fund requirements, which were not followed in the 2015 selection of Kholodnytskyi.
A successful fight against corruption is not only a task for Ukraine, but for many nations.
The Western world is intoxicated with dirty money parked there by kleptocrats from the poorest societies, whose people suffer from their crooked political elite. These kleptocrats are using the high-priced services of trained Western lawyers, lobbyists and notaries to whitewash dirty money and reputation — the enablers, as the Hudson Institute’s Kleptocracy Initiative calls them. When the West stops accepting dirty money, the kleptocrats will be locked at home.
The bad news is that the world, unfortunately, has not yet invented a golden recipe for the successful fight against top-level corruption. The powerful are still untouchable.
But Ukraine is now a laboratory where this recipe is being tried and tested through ups and downs. With tenacity and talent, Ukraine could even change its image as endemically corrupt to inventing anti-corruption tools emulated around the world.
Daria Kaleniuk is the executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv.