A new kind of sport:

Just about ev­ery­one in Ukraine is bat­tling cor­rup­tion today: all the law en­force­ment agen­cies to­gether with the ac­tivists, of­fi­cials and MPs. Some­times, though, such a large num­ber of anti-cor­rup­tion folks can get in the way

The Ukrainian Week - - CONTENTS - Stanislav Ko­zliuk

Why the trend of fight­ing gov­ern­ment cor­rup­tion yields no vis­i­ble re­sults

Not too many peo­ple will ar­gue against the state­ment that “Cor­rup­tion is go­ing on at all lev­els in Ukraine.” Time and again, news tick­ers buzz with break­ing an­nounce­ments that yet an­other bribester has been caught red-handed. Less of­ten comes news that schemes for mak­ing money on the side at state en­ter­prises have been un­cov­ered. More rarely yet, come news bul­letins that a money-laun­der­ing con­ver­sion cen­ter has been shut down. Hardly a day goes by with­out news of the lat­est thiev­ing of­fi­cial try­ing to make ex­tra money il­le­gally. Even the pres­i­dent once ad­dressed the Verkhovna Rada with a warn­ing that the bat­tle with cor­rup­tion was the coun­try’s most dif­fi­cult chal­lenge.

And, in typ­i­cal Ukrainian fash­ion, the en­tire po­lit­i­cal elite joined the fray. And so, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial data, law en­force­ment agen­cies launched nearly 9,500 cases in­volv­ing cor­rup­tion in the first five months of 2017, for crimes that in­cluded: mis­use of bud­get funds, fraud, over­step­ping author­ity, bribery, and more. Dur­ing this same pe­riod, the court sys­tem re­ceived over 2,200 new cases. And in the 7,000 cases that judges ex­am­ined be­tween Jan­uary and May, not one ended up be­ing ruled in fa­vor of the pros­e­cu­tion.

So, who, in fact, is fight­ing cor­rup­tion in Ukraine? If num­bers can be trusted, the Na­tional Po­lice have man­aged to nab the largest num­ber of cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als: since the be­gin­ning of 2017, they have filed 7,400 cases based on ev­i­dence of a va­ri­ety of crimes. Typ­i­cally, the po­lice ar­rest those tak­ing bribes from among their own of­fi­cers, low-ranked gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials, pros­e­cu­tors and so on. Most of the crimes are con­nected to tak­ing bribes rang­ing from a few hun­dred to thou­sands of US dol­lars. In ad­di­tion to this, the Na­tional Po­lice adopted an an­ti­cor­rup­tion pro­gram whose main aims are to pre­vent and counter cor­rup­tion in their own ranks, and to as­sess cor­rup­tion risks.

The most pub­li­cized op­er­a­tion was prob­a­bly the shock­ing searches of oblast of­fices of the one-time Min­istry of Rev­enues and Fees, which were car­ried out jointly with the Pros­e­cu­tor Gen­eral’s Of­fice, which is also keen to re­port on its bat­tle with cor­rupt of­fi­cials. Ac­cord­ing to PGO data, pros­e­cu­to­rial agen­cies launched 1,800 cor­rup­tion cases in the first five months of 2017. In ad­di­tion to over­step­ping author­ity, these in­cluded tak­ing pos­ses­sion of weapons or spe­cial equip­ment through fraud, abuse of po­si­tion, and so on. PGO spokesper­son Larysa Sarhan some­times even refers to the “bribester of the day” in so­cial net­works. News dis­sem­i­nated by the agency is dom­i­nated by no­tices that bud­get funds have been em­bez­zled, taxes have been evaded, and so on. The amounts in­volved range from a few thou­sand to tens of thou­sands of dol­lars.

In the mean­time, the Se­cu­rity Bureau of Ukraine (SBU) is also busy fight­ing cor­rup­tion. It some­times re­ports about ar­rest­ing a va­ri­ety of cor­rupt in­di­vid­u­als among ser­vice per­son­nel, po­lice of­fi­cers, bor­der guards, of­fi­cials and so on. Still, with only a few dozen cases to its credit since the be­gin­ning of the year, the SBU has not ac­tu­ally achieved that much in this area so far.

The Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which was set up in the spring of 2015, also hasn’t much to show for it­self, num­ber-wise. Its main pur­pose is to counter cor­rup­tion among higher of­fi­cials. It is also re­spon­si­ble for check­ing on in­tegrity. At this point, the Bureau’s de­tec­tives have al­ready ar­rested pos­si­bly the big­gest fish in the cor­rup­tion pond in the his­tory of the coun­try: Ro­man Nasirov, the for­mer head of the State Fis­cal Ser­vice; for­mer MP Mykola Mar­ty­nenko, MP Olek­sandr Olyshchenko with his nat­u­ral gas schemes, and so on. Work­ing to­gether with NABU is the Spe­cial­ized Anti-Cor­rup­tion Pros­e­cu­tor’s Of­fice (SAPO), which does not have in­ves­tiga­tive func­tions but over­sees the work of the Bureau. SAPO was set up in Septem­ber 2015 as part of the PGO, but it con­sid­ers it­self in­de­pen­dent of the higher en­tity.

In terms of in­ves­ti­gat­ing cor­rup­tion among min­is­ters, judges, the premier or pres­i­dent, there should have been an en­tity such as a State Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, but it has not yet been set up. Even the com­pe­ti­tion for the posts of Bureau chief and deputies has re­mained dragged on for nearly a year now. Given the amount of work nec­es­sary to ap­point staff to the agency’s re­gional of­fices, this process doesn’t look to end any time soon... Ac­cord­ing to the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dural Code, the SBI must be es­tab­lished by Novem­ber 20, 2017, but it’s clear that it is al­ready way off sched­ule.

Still, other than law en­force­ment agen­cies, Ukraine’s civil so­ci­ety is also en­gaged in the bat­tle against cor­rup­tion. One ex­am­ple is the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter (An­tAC), run by Vi­taliy Shabunin. The Cen­ter tracks pro­cure­ments at all lev­els, writes about “po­lit­i­cal” cor­rup­tion such as at­tempts to legally re­strict the pow­ers of newly-es­tab­lished an­ti­cor­rup­tion agen­cies, re­ports on amend­ments to

Law en­force­ment agen­cies launched nearly 9,500 cases in­volv­ing cor­rup­tion in the first five months of 2017, for crimes that in­cluded: mis­use of bud­get funds, fraud, over­step­ping author­ity, bribery, and more

leg­is­la­tion, and in­ves­ti­gates fraud­u­lent schemes. Mean­while, in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists from var­i­ous projects have also joined the ranks of those bat­tling cor­rup­tion and sys­tem­at­i­cally and reg­u­larly pub­lish ma­te­ri­als ded­i­cated to the lat­est schemes in­volv­ing cash­ing in on public money.

Right now, com­bat­ing cor­rup­tion seems to have be­come a trend at con­tem­po­rary state agen­cies and politi­cians be­hind them. As part of this “anti-cor­rup­tion trend,” we have seen the story of ap­point­ing au­di­tors to au­dit NABU. In short, the Verkhovna Rada was try­ing to pro­mote some fairly du­bi­ous rep­re­sen­ta­tives to this po­si­tion, which sug­gests that it re­ally wanted to in­flu­ence NABU’s work, if not ac­tu­ally take con­trol of it. At the same time, just about ev­ery high-pro­file ar­rest turns into an ex­cuse for some free PR or anti-PR for var­i­ous politi­cians. For in­stance, the ar­rest of Nasirov, which was re­lated to the Onyshchenko gas af­fair, made it pos­si­ble for NBU and SAPO to re­mind ev­ery­one of their ex­is­tence. That the public sup­ports NABU is ob­vi­ous from the hun­dreds of ac­tivists who blocked Nasirov in the court­room. Cer­tainly this also of­fered an op­por­tu­nity to earn po­lit­i­cal div­i­dends. For in­stance, mem­bers of the Move­ment of New Forces party were seen in the crowd, a party set up by Mikheil Saakashvili, and they tried in vain to take on the “co­or­di­na­tion” of the block­ing. Yet Nasirov him­self wiped out all the achieve­ments of the law en­force­ment agen­cies—or, per­haps more ac­cu­rately, his wife did when she brought the bail money and he was set free.

The PGO and Min­istry of In­ter­nal Af­fairs fig­ured promi­nently in high-pro­file cor­rup­tion cases as well. For in­stance, at the end of May, the Na­tional Po­lice and the Mil­i­tary Pros­e­cu­tor car­ried out a mas­sive search op­er­a­tion in the ad­min­is­tra­tions of the for­mer Min­istry of Rev­enues and Fees. The sta­tis­tics were im­pres­sive: 454 searches in 15 oblasts, 23 pros­e­cu­tors ar­rested and air­lifted by he­li­copter to the Pech­ersk Dis­trict Court in Kyiv, al­though in­fa­mous for the backpedalling of high-pro­file cases and con­tro­ver­sial ver­dicts in the past. The judge re­leased seven of them on bail, an­other four on per­sonal re­cog­ni­zance, and the re­main­ing 12 ar­rested but given the right to also pay bail. The coun­try’s top cop, Arsen Avakov, him­self re­ported on his page in a so­cial net­work about the achieve­ments of the po­lice: how many were ar­rested, the to­tal value of the bail bonds, the per­sonal valu­ables of the ar­rested that had been seized, and so on. How­ever, un­less the court sys­tem also does its job, this kind of “re­port” comes across as lit­tle more than self-pro­mo­tion.

To pre­vent this kind of sit­u­a­tion dur­ing the course of ju­di­cial re­form, anti-cor­rup­tion courts were sup­posed to be set up pre­cisely to han­dle this kind of crime. Ac­cord­ing to the IMF me­moran­dum from early April, the Verkhovna Rada was sup­posed to adopt leg­is­la­tion on the anti-cor­rup­tion courts by mid-June, and the courts them­selves were sup­posed to start work­ing by the end of March 2018. The bill still has not been passed, de­spite the tight time­frame. What’s more, af­ter the ac­cused bribesters were re­leased on bail, talk once again be­gan about amend­ing the Crim­i­nal Pro­ce­dural Code to make it im­pos­si­ble for sus­pects to flee.

“You have to un­der­stand that the CPC is far stricter about fi­nan­cial crimes than about most other types of crim­i­nal ac­tiv­i­ties,” ex­plains one pros­e­cu­tor. “Your case can col­lapse sim­ply be­cause the bills the cor­rupt in­di­vid­ual was sup­posed to take were marked the wrong way. That’s even with­out talk­ing about bail as an op­tion for the big fish.”

And, of course, the CPC hasn’t been amended. More­over, the lat­est ini­tia­tives of the Ad­min­is­tra­tion in re­la­tion to e-dec­la­ra­tions give even more cause for con­cern. So far, the Rada has amended Bill №6172 “On amend­ing Art. 3 of the Law of Ukraine ‘On pre­vent­ing cor­rup­tion.’” These changes have ex­panded the group of in­di­vid­u­als who are obliged to file such dec­la­ra­tions to in­clude those au­tho­rized to carry out state func­tions or func­tions at the lo­cal level, man­ages and mem­bers of anti-cor­rup­tion CSOs, and all their sub­con­trac­tors. For a num­ber of ob­jec­tive rea­sons, this cre­ates a se­ri­ous prob­lem, not just for an­ti­cor­rup­tion ac­tivists, but also for in­ves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ists who work through CSOs. Me­dia ex­perts be­gan to de­scribe these changes as an at­tempt to “put the screws” to anti-cor­rup­tion ac­tivists who were “get­ting in the way.”

But amend­ments to the CPC that di­rectly af­fect NABU are even more dan­ger­ous. Two of them are de­scribed as “pro­tect­ing busi­ness,” but in re­al­ity they cur­tail the pow­ers of anti-cor­rup­tion law en­force­ment agen­cies by sub­or­di­nat­ing them to the PGO. One pro­hibits law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, in­clud­ing NABU it­self, to in­ves­ti­gate a crim­i­nal case if that same case was opened and shut based on the same cir­cum­stances by an­other law en­force­ment agency. The other ob­li­gates law en­force­ment agen­cies, in­clud­ing NABU, to close a case if it was closed pre­vi­ously based on the same facts. In short, for most of today's of­fi­cials and MPs, the bat­tle against cor­rup­tion is clearly not se­ri­ous but sim­ply a trend, some­thing that they want to add to their re­sumes. Ul­ti­mately, just a new form of sport where par­tic­i­pat­ing is more im­por­tant than ac­tu­ally win­ning.

Ar­rest and trial? The cur­rent law al­lows bribesters to be re­leased on bail as an al­ter­na­tive to ar­rest, thus mak­ing it pos­si­ble for sus­pects to flee

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