France’s am­bas­sador: Pri­or­ity No. 1 is anti-cor­rup­tion court

Kyiv Post - - National - BY BRIAN BON­NER BON­[email protected]

If Ukrainian Pres­i­dent Petro Poroshenko thinks he can drag out the process of cre­at­ing a cred­i­ble anti-cor­rup­tion court with­out any­body notic­ing, he's got an­other thing com­ing.

Peo­ple are get­ting wise to the pres­i­dent's ways of stalling on cru­cial re­forms.

Backed on Oct. 6 by the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion for Democ­racy through Law, bet­ter known as the Venice Com­mis­sion, the West de­liv­ered an un­am­bigu­ous opin­ion to Poroshenko: Es­tab­lish rule of law, a key com­po­nent of which for Ukraine is the cre­ation of an in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion court.

Just ahead of the Venice Com­mis­sion find­ings, Poroshenko switched sides. Ater den­i­grat­ing the idea of such a court for a year, he came out in fa­vor, at least nominally adopt­ing the same long-held po­si­tion of many Ukraini­ans and their friends abroad. France is among them. "We are sup­port­ing firmly the es­tab­lish­ment of an in­de­pen­dent, spe­cific anti-cor­rup­tion court," French Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Is­abelle Dumont told the Kyiv Post in an Oct. 10 in­ter­view in Kyiv.

Such a court can and should be set up by the end of the year, Dumont says.

'Top pri­or­ity'

"If there has to be only one re­form made un­til the end of the year, it is the cre­ation of an anti-cor­rup­tion court with judges who have in­tegrity," Dumont said. "This is re­ally the top pri­or­ity. You won't have for­eign in­vest­ments un­til in­vestors know that, if they are fac­ing a prob­lem, they have a proper ju­di­cial sys­tem. Take the pop­u­la­tion — peo­ple will not stay in this coun­try if they feel that they can­not trust the jus­tice sys­tem. The so­cioe­co­nomic way for­ward in Ukraine is linked to the jus­tice sys­tem."

The courts are only one facet of deep problems in Ukraine's le­gal sys­tem, in­clud­ing dis­trusted and in­ef­fec­tive po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors. As for the newly ap­pointed 111-mem­ber Supreme Court, she said, it is too early to judge.

While Dumont praised suc­cess­ful re­forms since Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych fled power in the EuroMaidan Rev­o­lu­tion on Feb. 22, 2014, the fail­ure to fight cor­rup­tion and build ef­fec­tive le­gal in­sti­tu­tions is a glar­ing omis­sion.

"We do have to worry that it has not been done yet af­ter three years," she said.

No EU of­fer forth­com­ing

With­out progress, Ukraine's politi­cians can for­get about any of­fer to join the Euro­pean Union, from France’s per­spec­tive at least.

"This is not on the agenda," Dumont said. "EU mem­ber­ship can­not even be men­tioned when the sit­u­a­tion with cor­rup­tion is what it is to­day in Ukraine."

Dumont said Ukraine's pri­or­ity with the EU should be fully im­ple­ment­ing the po­lit­i­cal and trade as­so­ci­a­tion agree­ment that came into ef­fect this year. "Be­lieve me, there's a lot to do in this area," she said.

Some law­mak­ers in Ukraine are seek­ing EU ap­proval for a "Marshall Plan," named af­ter the post-World War II re­con­struc­tion pro­gram for Europe. They en­vi­sion a multi­bil­lion-dol­lar an­nual aid and in­vest­ment pro­gram for Ukraine.

Dumont says that it’s hard to take such re­quests se­ri­ously while bil­lion­aire oli­garchs like Ihor Kolo­moisky are able to al­legedly steal $6 bil­lion from Pri­vatBank, bankrupt­ing the na­tion's largest pri­vate bank and forc­ing the Ukrainian govern­ment to take own­er­ship and pay out the losses with tax­payer money.

De­spite the ac­cu­sa­tions of Kolo­moisky's bank fraud, from no less an author­ity than the Na­tional Bank of Ukraine, the po­lit­i­cally pow­er­ful oli­garch — who owns en­ergy com­pa­nies, me­dia out­lets and Ukraine In­ter­na­tional Air­lines — is fac­ing no le­gal con­se­quences.

"We are not for­get­ting about" Pri­vatBank, Dumont said. "We know what hap­pened. We are fol­low­ing very closely. Peo­ple should not for­get that a big part of the money given to Ukraine through the EU, In­ter­na­tional Mone­tary Fund and Euro­pean Bank for Re­con­struc­tion and De­vel­op­ment is money from the French tax­payer.”

The Kolo­moisky case and oth­ers re­in­force the con­clu­sion that Ukraine re­mains an oli­garchy. "What is at stake now is to trans­form the sit­u­a­tion from an oli­garchic econ­omy to a more reg­u­lar econ­omy with rule of law and a func­tion­ing ju­di­cial sys­tem," she said. "There is no need for more money in this coun­try. Ukraine is a rich coun­try with poor peo­ple. The prob­lem is get­ting the wealth bet­ter dis­trib­uted to the pop­u­la­tion. The prob­lem is keep­ing the wealth in the coun­try and not evap­o­rat­ing some­where else. The prob­lem is hav­ing big busi­nesses pay­ing their taxes to the bud­get. The prob­lem is to have rich peo­ple not us­ing their money to buy judges in or­der to con­tinue with im­punity."

Sanofi test case

Af­ter 26 years as a na­tion, Ukraine re­mains starved for for­eign in­vest­ment — at­tract­ing only $50 bil­lion, far less than many neigh­bor­ing coun­tries and not enough to lift mil­lions out of poverty in a na­tion with an econ­omy out­put of just $100 bil­lion.

At­tract­ing in­vest­ment re­quires strong rule of law, Dumont says, and French com­pa­nies have had their share of bad ex­pe­ri­ences with Ukraine’s cor­rupt courts and bu­reau­cracy.

One court case be­ing watched by France as a bell­wether of Ukraine's in­vest­ment cli­mate in­volves the Ukrainian di­vi­sion of Sanofi Group, a global phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany.

Sanofi ac­cuses a Ukrainian vendor of steal­ing nearly $1.9 mil­lion through forged doc­u­ments. A Kyiv busi­ness court of ap­peals up­held the vendor's claim on Oct. 5. Con­se­quently, Sanofi is ap­peal­ing the rul­ing to a higher court and has threat­ened to file an in­ter­na­tional ar­bi­tra­tion claim against the Ukrainian govern­ment. The com­pany al­leges that the fraud­u­lent ac­tions took place with the help of rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the ju­di­cial sys­tem and law en­force­ment, In­ter­fax-Ukraine re­ported.

Ac­cord­ing to STAT news, which cov­ers the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal in­dus­try, the Sanofi dis­pute in­volves a con­tract with a vendor that sup­plied pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als to phar­ma­cies.

"The com­pany hopes that the coun­try's lead­er­ship will take all nec­es­sary steps to stop fi­nan­cial raiders, whose ac­tions cause sig­nif­i­cant dam­age to the coun­try's in­vest­ment im­age and cause out­flow of for­eign di­rect in­vest­ment from Ukraine," the com­pany's press ser­vice said, quot­ing Guil­hem Granier, di­rec­tor of Sanofi-Aven­tis Ukraine.

"The Sanofi case is very im­por­tant," Dumont said. "It is a test case for Ukrainian jus­tice. We will see what the court will de­cide in the end. Sanofi has given proof that this money should not be­long to the firm that claims it. Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties are aware of the whole sit­u­a­tion."

In­ter­na­tional lit­i­ga­tion “would be quite bad news for Ukraine," Dumont said. "Sanofi is known in­ter­na­tion­ally as one of the world’s largest phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pa­nies. They are not fac­ing this sort of prob­lem in other coun­tries. I hope Ukrainian au­thor­i­ties will un­der­stand the sym­bolic im­por­tance of this is­sue, for what it means for for­eign in­vest­ments."

In­vestors 'wait­ing'

Such dis­putes, cou­pled with the lack of an in­de­pen­dent ju­di­ciary, keep many French in­vestors away, Dumont says.

"French in­vestors are in­ter­ested in the mar­ket. They would like to come," she says. "One mes­sage that comes reg­u­larly — and this is the core of the dif­fi­culty as I can see it — is that small busi­ness can­not af­ford to come into Ukraine. For most of them, it's too com­pli­cated. The big com­pa­nies, they don't care. I say that with all friend­ship and love to Ukraine. But they don't need Ukraine to make them­selves big­ger."

Although Ukraine has "a big mar­ket and a big pop­u­la­tion," com­pa­nies also worry that do­ing busi­ness in Ukraine will harm their rep­u­ta­tions.

"They are wait­ing for green lights. One of those green lights will ap­pear on the day when there will be a proper anti-cor­rup­tion court func­tion­ing. It will be a sig­nal for in­vestors that they can come in."

France's key role

Ir­ri­tat­ing France is not a good idea. Al­ready, the French pres­i­dent has had to per­son­ally in­ter­vene in dis­putes in­volv­ing French busi­nesses in Ukraine, Dumont said.

France plays a key role in try­ing to bring an end to Rus­sia's war through peace talks in the Nor­mandy For­mat, along with Ger­many, Ukraine and Rus­sia. On that score, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron is solidly on Ukraine's side in sup­port­ing eco­nomic sanc­tions against Rus­sia, hold­ing Vladimir Putin ac­count­able and re­fus­ing to ac­cept Rus­sian oc­cu­pa­tion of Ukraine's Crimean penin­sula and east­ern Don­bas.

While the war turns four years old in April, Dumont sees the idea of cre­at­ing an in­ter­na­tional peace­keep­ing force as worth pur­su­ing.

“We're talk­ing with Ukraini­ans, first and fore­most, and talk­ing also with the Rus­sians.” Defin­ing the pa­ram­e­ters of a peace­keep­ing force “is how we are go­ing to be able to un­der­stand what the Rus­sians have in mind: Is it a real step for­ward or is it not?"

But just as with the fight against cor­rup­tion, no break­through has yet taken place on the war front, leav­ing Ukraine with plenty of do­mes­tic and for­eign chal­lenges ahead, en­e­mies from with­out and from within.

French Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Is­abelle Dumont plays in the sym­phony orches­tra of the Kharkiv Re­gional Phil­har­monic on May 12, 2016. (UNIAN)

A sci­en­tist works in the biotech­nol­ogy depart­ment of French phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal com­pany Sanofi on Sept. 28 near Paris. (AFP)

Guil­hem Granier, di­rec­tor of Sanofi-Aven­tis Ukraine.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ukraine

© PressReader. All rights reserved.