Poroshenko con­vinces EU no anti-cor­rup­tion court needed

Kyiv Post - - Front Page - BY OLENA GONCHAROVA, VERONIKA MELKOZEROV­A [email protected]­POST.COM, MELKOZEROV­[email protected]­POST.COM

After the West had been push­ing foot-drag­ging Ukrainian of­fi­cials for months to cre­ate an anti-cor­rup­tion court, a top Euro­pean Union of­fi­cial caved in on the de­mand dur­ing the EU-Ukraine Sum­mit in Kyiv on July 13.

Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker, who led the EU side with Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk, said that Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko per­suaded him that that an in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion court isn’t needed.

In­stead, Juncker ac­cepted Poroshenko’s rec­om­men­da­tion for a less-than-in­de­pen­dent “anti-cor­rup­tion panel” within the Supreme Court.

In May, Ukraine’s Prose­cu­tor Gen­eral Yuriy Lut­senko said that there was no need to cre­ate “an­other court” — mean­ing the anti-cor­rup­tion court. In­stead, a panel within the Supreme Court — widely dis­trusted and po­lit­i­cally sub­servient — will be enough.

“We pre­vi­ously in­sisted on the

es­tab­lish­ment of a new spe­cial anti-cor­rup­tion court in Ukraine, but Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko per­suaded us that … it would be bet­ter to cre­ate the spe­cial anti-cor­rup­tion panel of judges, who would con­vict high-pro­file cor­rupt of­fi­cials in Ukraine,” Juncker said.

Civic ac­tivists have long called for the creation of an anti-cor­rup­tion court, staffed with in­de­pen­dent and com­pe­tent judges, and re­cruited with the help of for­eign­ers, to try graft cases. This is seen as a so­lu­tion to the prob­lem of Ukraine’s no­to­ri­ously cor­rupt and politi­cized ju­di­ciary.

Ac­tivists are not happy with the EU ca­pit­u­la­tion.

The Anti-Cor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter and the Re­an­i­ma­tion Pack­age of Re­forms says the anti-cor­rup­tion panel will be as in­ef­fec­tive as Ukraine’s cur­rent courts, as it will not be in­de­pen­dent.

Re­formist law­maker Sergii Leshchenko said the is­sue is not Juncker’s — or the EU’s — to de­cide.

“I guess Juncker is not (fa­mil­iar enough) with the topic, that’s why he said this,” Leshchenko told the Kyiv Post. “The anti-cor­rup­tion cham­ber re­minds me of the three years of so-called at­tempts to make cos­metic re­forms to the Gen­eral Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice. This is our fight. And we know bet­ter what we need — a new anti-cor­rup­tion court. And we will con­tinue to push for it.”

Missed dead­line

Set­ting up the anti-cor­rup­tion court was one of the main con­di­tions set by the In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund and Euro­pean Union to grant Ukraine fur­ther loans. In its lat­est me­moran­dum, the IMF, which has al­ready dis­bursed $13.6 bil­lion out of a $17.5 bil­lion bailout for Ukraine, set a strict June 14 dead­line for the anti-cor­rup­tion court bill to be ap­proved by Ukraine’s par­lia­ment.

Ukrainian re­formist law­mak­ers sub­mit­ted a bill on an anti-cor­rup­tion court to the Ukrainian par­lia­ment in Fe­bru­ary. How­ever, Poroshenko and Verkhovna Rada speaker An­driy Paru­biy ig­nored the bill and the dead­line was missed.

Ukrainian watch­dogs urged the West to con­tinue to push the Ukrainian gov­ern­ment to cre­ate an anti-cor­rup­tion court, as the reg­u­lar courts have been block­ing high- pro­file cor­rup­tion cases in­ves­ti­gated by the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bu­reau of Ukraine — an in­de­pen­dent agency. The bu­reau, which was cre­ated in un­der a pre­vi­ous IMF agree­ment in 2015, has at­tracted praise from the West and Ukraine’s anti-cor­rup­tion watch­dogs.

“There is no po­lit­i­cal will to set up an anti-cor­rup­tion court among Ukrainian of­fi­cials, es­pe­cially now, when they’ve al­ready started pre­par­ing for the elec­tion cam­paign in 2019,” Leshchenko said on July 11. “No­body wants to be con­victed of cor­rup­tion or have his cronies ac­cused of bribery while fight­ing for power.”

U. S. State Sec­re­tary Rex Tiller­son dur­ing his visit in Kyiv on July 9 also pushed Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties to speed up the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­sti­tu­tion to fi­nally bring con­crete re­sults in the fight against high-pro­file cor­rup­tion.

Tiller­son pub­licly warned Poroshenko and other Ukrainian oli­garchs that if they do not clear cor­rupt judges out of the courts and guar­an­tee rule of law, Western in­vestors will stay away.

Ac­tivists say most of the re­forms — the creation of the pub­lic pro­cure­ment sys­tem, the elec­tronic as­set dec­la­ra­tion sys­tem, and the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bu­reau of Ukraine, as well as other mea­sures — only came about be­cause of con­stant pres­sure from in­ter­na­tional donors and civil so­ci­ety.

But since the EU granted visa-free travel to Ukraini­ans on June 11 and ap­proved the po­lit­i­cal and trade As­so­ci­a­tion Agree­ment, the fight against cor­rup­tion has stalled, they say. Even worse, Daria Kale­niuk, the Anti-Cor­rup­tion Ac­tion Cen­ter’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tors, said on July 11 that she has seen de­ter­mined ef­forts by the au­thor­i­ties to sab­o­tage, un­der­mine and oth­er­wise re­verse pre­vi­ous anti-cor­rup­tion achieve­ments.

Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional, the in­ter­na­tional watch­dog, con­demned Junker’s state­ment, say­ing there is no al­ter­na­tive to the anti-cor­rup­tion court es­tab­lish­ment in Ukraine.

“We are con­fi­dent that Ukrainian gov­ern­ment de­ceived Euro­pean part­ners that the spe­cial anti-cor­rup- tion panel of judges is the only quick and ac­cept­able de­ci­sion of the lack of rule of law prob­lem in Ukraine,” reads the state­ment pub­lished on Trans­parency In­ter­na­tional web­site on July 13. “These pan­els within the reg­u­lar courts won’t be in­de­pen­dent but strictly con­trolled by the high of­fi­cials. They would be formed from the old, cor­rupt judges and would be­come a real weapon in hands of high-pro­file cor­rupt of­fi­cials.”

Prais­ing progress

Both of the vis­it­ing top EU of­fi­cials — Juncker and Tusk — on July 13 praised Ukraine’s ef­forts in trade and pub­lic pro­cure­ment re­form. How­ever, they also stressed that Ukraine’s fight against cor­rup­tion is fal­ter­ing.

Juncker said Ukraine has shown “tremen­dous progress” in its re­form agenda over the last three years, but that there’s still a lot of home­work that the coun­try’s elite needs to do. The Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties must fight cor­rup­tion more de­ci­sively, Junker said, as this could be “Ukraine’s main trump card” to ad­vance its Euro­pean as­pi­ra­tions.

“This is­sue is im­por­tant for the cit­i­zens and you have to work with it,” Juncker said. “There’s been a di­a­logue be­tween Ukraine and the EU, and Ukraine’s rep­u­ta­tion de­pends heav­ily on im­prove­ments in this area. If you didn’t fight graft on the all lev­els, in­vestors will not come to Ukraine.”

Tusk spoke of Ukraine’s fur­ther de­vel­op­ment plans, say­ing that the coun­try could not now be de­feated by an “ex­ter­nal en­emy.”

“You are too strong,” Tusk said. “You can only be de­feated by your­selves. If you can bear the bur­den of re­form, and not give up, then you will achieve your dreams and goals.”

Juncker said he was very sat­is­fied with Ukraine’s se­cur­ing visa-free travel with the EU, as more than 100,000 Ukraini­ans have al­ready trav­eled to Schen­gen Area in the first month of the visa-free regime.

But the joint press con­fer­ence didn’t last long. Ukrainian pres­i­den­tial spokesper­son Svy­atoslav Tse­holko al­lowed only two ques­tions from the press. Junker wanted even less — just one ques­tion from the jour­nal­ists.

“I’m so hun­gry!” Junker said three times dur­ing the press con­fer­ence.

So after speak­ing to the press for less than 15 min­utes, the lead­ers hur­ried off to a din­ner wait­ing for them in the House with Chimeras, a his­tor­i­cal build­ing next to the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­min­is­tra­tion on Kyiv’s Bankova Street.

The sum­mit ended with no joint dec­la­ra­tion, which is un­usual for a meet­ing of this level. In­stead, Juncker and Tusk merely com­mented that they both “sup­port” Ukraine’s Euro­pean as­pi­ra­tions.

Pres­i­dent of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion Jean-Claude Juncker speaks dur­ing a press con­fer­ence with Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko at the Euro­pean Union-Ukraine sum­mit in Kyiv on July 13. Juncker un­ex­pect­edly dropped long­stand­ing de­mands in the West that...

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