Poroshenko convinces EU no anti-corruption court needed
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.”
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.”
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...