Shabunin says Poroshenko blocks judicial reforms
Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the board of directors of the Anti-corruption Action Center.
You can’t have your chocolate and eat it too, to mangle an old proverb. But that’s exactly what President Petro Poroshenko wants, say anti-corruption activists who accuse him of obstructing justice and resisting change.
The public hungers for convictions and jail terms for those who committed major crimes against the state, especially under overthrown President Viktor Yanukovych.
Yet there have been no convictions. High-ranking officials suspected of corruption are walking free as prosecutors remain instruments of a highly politicized – and politically subservient – criminal justice system.
This provides a damning indictment of the performance of Poroshenko, the first post-euromaidan Revolution president.
Keeping control of prosecutors, the Security Service of Ukraine and the courts is a key feature of Poroshenko’s rule since his election in May 2014, said Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the board of directors of the Anti-corruption Action Center. The nongovernmental group exposes corruption and lobbies for anti-corruption legislation.
“It is a pattern of behavior," Shabunin said. “Poroshenko wants to retain control over prosecution.”
Such control effectively leaves the president in charge of who among the power elite gets investigated and who is let off the hook.
By foot-dragging in creating a genuinely independent prosecutorial service, however, Poroshenko risks a fall from grace similar to that of ex-president Viktor Yushchenko. After Yushchenko failed to live up to the expectations of the 2004 Orange Revolution that put him in power, he got only 5 percent of votes when he stood for re-election in 2010.
A Poroshenko spokesperson wasn’t immediately available, but Poroshenko has repeatedly insisted that he will bring the justice system and public administration in line with European Union and Council of Europe standards.
Oleksiy Mushak, a Bloc of Poroshenko lawmaker, agreed that “society increasingly demands justice, so the authorities will have to deliver soon, including against Yanukovych era officials.”
Shabunin said Poroshenko's desire for a loyal prosecutor general also depends on rank-and-file prosecutors who obey orders from the top. This is why Deputy Prosecutor General Davit Sakvarelidze, who is trying to hire new and independent prosecutors, is so threatening to the status quo.
Shokin and the presidential administration are inserting their representatives on commissions to hire new prosecutors. "If the newly hired people have worked in the prosecution service before, then we’re in deep trouble,” Shabunin said.
But the problems in the judicial system are more widespread than just prosecutors.
Shabunin said that the president can still order verdicts from judges just as his predecessors did. When verdicts aren't ordered from above, Shabunin claimed, they can still be bought. Lawyer Igor Fomin agreed with Shabunin, saying that the problem of ”ordering court rulings by phone has become even worse.”
Anti-corruption activists were earlier willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt. But no longer. “I had hoped he’d kept those instruments from the old regime in order to pursue swift reform,” Shabunin said.
What are Poroshenko's motivations? Possibly fear, Shabunin said.
“He couldn’t have been a big businessman and serving as minister of economy under Yanukovych without partic- ipating in corrupt deals,” Shabunin told the Kyiv Post. He believes that Poroshenko is driven by fear that past misdeeds might be exposed, an explanation for why no top officials from the administration of ex-president Viktor Yanukovych have been prosecuted, with many fleeing the country and, in some cases, keeping their assets.
They might know a lot about Poroshenko, who was a cofounder of the Party of Regions and an economy minister under Yanukovych. Shabunin is also worried about possible presidential misdeeds today.
While painting a bleak picture, Shabunin still believes that “the situation is much better compared with that under Yanukovych” because the authorities are more vulnerable and more sensitive to criticism, both domestic and foreign. “It’s easier for us to have an impact,” he said.
‘It is a pattern of behavior. Poroshenko wants to retain control over prosecution.’