Groups battling bureaucrats win several fresh victories
Ukraine’s maturing community of advocacy groups has seemingly won several victories in its battle with Ukraine’s powerful bureaucracy.
One of them is that, a-yearand-a-half after ousted President Viktor Yanukovych fled the country, some progress is finally being made in the landmark corruption case against him. Another is that Volodymyr Huzyr, a controversial high-level prosecutor accused of covering up corruption, stepped down on July 28. Yet another victory is that the reformist Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaly Kasko will be appointed as head of the department in charge of cases against top government officials and retrieving stolen assets, according to a statement made by Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin on July 30.
Cause for celebration may
be premature. The indictment in the Yanukovych case has not yet been sent to court. Moreover, months of procrastination have allowed some of his allies to flee and unfreeze and shift assets to other firms.
Huzyr’s replacement, Yury Sevruk, has been called a Huzyr protégé by watchdog groups, including the AntiCorruption Action Center and the Civic Lustration Committee. Sevruk denied any such links on July 29. Shokin, who has also been blamed for stalling high-profile corruption cases and foiling the crackdown on corruption at his agency, has kept his job.
Critics attribute President Petro Poroshenko’s reluctance to fire Shokin to his unwillingness to have an independent prosecutor general, rather than a loyal man at his beck and call. On July 2, parliament passed amendments that place anti-corruption prosecutors de facto under the control of the president, as opposed to the newly established Anti-Corruption Bureau.
The prosecutor’s office did not reply to an e-mailed request for comment, while Andriy Demartino, a spokesman for the office, declined to comment by phone.
Shokin caught public attention at a briefing on July 28 when he spoke about the agency’s supposed achievements. He said that Kyiv’s Pechersk Court had authorized a corruption trial in absentia for Yanukovych.
Serhiy Horbatiuk, who heads the trials in absentia department at the prosecutor’s office, told the Kyiv Post that he could not say when the Yanukovych trial would begin.
Although he is still wanted, information on Yanukovych’s wanted notice has been removed from Interpol’s website pending an appeal by his lawyers, according to the local branch of Interpol in Ukraine.
Yanukovych’s lawyers said on July 29 that he had agreed to testify in the case by video conference from Russia, where he currently resides. Shokin also said his office would soon file notices of suspicion for Yanukovych under the organized crime, abuse of power and state treason articles of Ukraine’s criminal code. Previously, Yanukovych was charged with organizing the murders of EuroMaidan protesters and for large-scale embezzlement.
Last week the court also permitted trials in absentia for ex-Health Minister Raisa Bohatyryova and ex-Deputy Tax and Revenue Minister Andriy Ihnatov. However, prosecutors have not yet sent the respective indictments to court.
In addition, prosecutors have asked the Pechersk Court to permit trials in absentia for former Deputy Prime Minister Serhiy Arbuzov, ex-Tax and Revenue Minister Oleksandr Klymenko and Bohatyryova’s suspected accomplice, Oleksandr Stashchenko.
Shokin also said that the foreign accounts of Yanukovych’s allies worth a total of €9 million, $26 million and 85 million Swiss francs had been frozen so far.
Shokin’s report on his office’s presumed achievements, combined with the resignation of his first deputy Huzyr, is seen by critics as a face-saving gesture intended to preserve the prosecutor general’s job.
Huzyr quit amid public pressure after evidence emerged that he, Shokin and another of Shokin’s deputies, Yury Stolyarchuk, had been pressuring the subordinates of deputy prosecutor generals Davit Sakvarelidze and Vitaly Kasko to halt a corruption case. Shokin and Huzyr deny this.
Sakvarelidze and Kasko later said the leadership of the Prosecutor General’s Office had started two criminal cases against the investigators in charge of the bribery case against two prosecutors, Volodymyr Shapakin and Oleksandr Korniyets, who were arrested in early July.
Karl Volokh, an activist of the Civic Lustration Committee, told the Kyiv Post that nothing would change at the Prosecutor General’s Office with Huzyr’s resignation.
“Yesterday one top prosecutor sent me an SMS saying ‘congratulations on Huzyr’s resignation and the appointment of the young Huzyr,’” he quipped. “Huzyr behaved in a stupid and crass way. And his replacement, if he’s more cautious, will do the same stuff but will sabotage major cases more carefully, and we won’t even see this.”
The Anti-Corruption Action Center has said Sevruk could be subject to the lustration law, which envisages firing Yanukovych-era officials, but he himself denies this.
Firing Huzyr is not enough, critics say. His alleged involvement in the alleged corruption of Korniyets and Shapakin, as well as his alleged links to violations at oil firm BRSM-Nafta, have to be investigated.
Amid the corruption scandals at the prosecutor’s office, and the slow pace of high-profile criminal investigations, lawmakers have been collecting signatures for Shokin’s dismissal. So far, 106 signatures have been collected, while 150 are necessary to put the issue on parliament’s agenda.
Nataliya Katser-Buchkovska, a lawmaker from the People’s Front party, said by phone the issue will be placed on the party’s agenda for discussion.
Alex Ryabchyn, a lawmaker from the Batkyvshchyna party, told the Kyiv Post that he didn’t want to play “political games” and hadn’t signed the petition for Shokin’s dismissal because he didn’t know who would succeed him.
Hanna Hopko, a lawmaker from the Samopomich party who signed the petition, believes the only way out is to replace the old guard with a new team of professional and honest people.
“The old prosecutorial mafia, which has been sitting there since the Soviet period and survived under (ex-presidents Leonid) Kuchma and (Viktor) Yanukovych, should be purged,” she told the Kyiv Post by phone.
Activists rally against Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin and his deputies Volodymyr Huzyr and Yury Stolyarchuk, near the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kyiv on July 24. (Volodymyr Petrov)