Anti-corruption prosecutor saves his job, loses all trust
Ukraine’s High Qualification Commission of Prosecutors on July 26 decided not to fire Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky, who stands accused of obstructing top corruption investigations, and merely reprimanded him.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine in April released tapes from Kholodnytsky’s office where he was recorded pressuring his subordinates to obstruct corruption cases against Odesa Mayor Hennady Trukhanov, Natalia Korchak, the former head of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption, People’s Front lawmaker Georgii Logvynskyi, and other powerful figures.
“The reprimand was expected,” Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, said on Facebook. “The system doesn’t give up on its members. You think you can hide from us behind 10 security guards and (Interior Minister Arsen) Avakov’s thugs? This hideout is very transitory.”
The decision was also lambasted by the U. S. Embassy to Ukraine, which has denied a visa to Kholodnytsky, according to a recent interview with NABU Chief Artem Sytnyk.
“In a modern democracy, prosecutors who engage in witness tampering and obstruction of justice resign for the sake of the institution and in support of rule of law principles,” the embassy said on Twitter.
In March, Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko asked the prosecutorial commission to consider firing Kholodnytsky. Sytnyk also asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to bring charges against Kholodnytsky, which they did not do.
Kholodnytsky and his subordinates from his office argued at the commission meeting that they did not interpret the actions recorded in the tapes as pressure. They explained warnings for suspects about planned searches and criminal cases as attempts “to gain trust.”
Oleksandr Kovalchuk, a member of the commission, has prepared a report confirming that Kholodnytsky violated prosecutorial ethics and recommending that he be reprimanded.
The report is seen by anti-corruption activists as an attempt to save Kholodnytsky instead of firing him. Now it’s up to the Council of Prosecutors and Lutsenko to either confirm or re-consider the decision.
Kholodnytsky has blocked all NABU cases since the tapes were released, Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center's executive board, and a NABU source who was not authorized to speak to the press, told the Kyiv Post. Kholodnytsky has denied the accusations of sabotaging NABU investigations.
Kholodnytsky’s office and the Qualification and Disciplinary Commission of Prosecutors did not respond to requests for comment.
Ahead of the prosecutorial commission meeting, NABU said on July 25 that prosecutor Valentyn Musiyaka from Kholodnytsky’s office had closed the case against People’s Front lawmaker Denys Dzenzersky, who is accused of failing to declare financial obligations worth Hr 4 billion stemming from court rulings.
Kholodnytsky’s opponents argue that this was an attempt by him to gain favor with People’s Front heavyweight and Interior Minister Avakov in an effort to keep his job.
The anti-corruption prosecutors cited experts who claimed that financial obligations cannot arise as a result of court rulings. But NABU disagreed, saying it would dispute the closure of the case.
In July 2017, NABU and Kholodnytsky’s office asked Lutsenko to strip Dzenzersky of immunity from prosecution. Lutsenko refused to submit the motion and demanded that it be improved.
Meanwhile, on July 12 Kholodnytsky’s office said it had closed the embezzlement case against Avakov’s son Oleksandr Avakov and the minister’s ex-deputy Serhiy Chebotar.
A NABU source who was not authorized to speak to the press told the Kyiv Post that bureau detectives believe that Kholodnytsky, who has been accused of blocking and sabotaging NABU cases, had reached a deal with Avakov and other top officials. According to the deal, Kholodnytsky would keep his job in exchange for closing the Avakov case.
Kholodnytsky’s deputy Volodymyr Kryvenko denied the accusations, saying that the decision in the Avakov case had been made independently from Kholodnytsky.
And Interior Ministry spokesman Artem Shevchenko dismissed all the accusations against Avakov as “nonsense.”
Oleksandr Avakov, Chebotar and alleged mediator Volodymyr Lytvyn, are accused of embezzling Hr 14.5 million in a case related to the supply of overpriced backpacks to the Interior Ministry. The suspects deny the accusations and call the case a political vendetta by NABU.
The investigation against Avakov and Chebotar was already completed and expected to be sent to trial, but anti-corruption prosecutor Vasyl Krychun had closed it.
The anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said that Lytvyn had pled guilty to fraud and document forgery and given testimony that Oleksandr Avakov and Chebotar had not been involved in the scheme. This version contradicts the video footage investigated by NABU in which Chebotar and Oleksandr Avakov negotiate the corrupt deal.
The version of Kholodnytsky’s office is completely at odds with a vast amount of evidence in Avakov’s case that has been piling up for years.
In 2017, NABU said that an examination of the video confirmed the authenticity of the voices of Avakov and Chebotar, while another examination determined that the video had not been tampered with, and there were no discrepancies between audio and video tracks.
In 2016, an audit revealed that Dniprovend, the backpack supplier, did not comply with the qualification requirements for backpacks, according to NABU. Dniprovend did not respond to a request for comment.
During the same year, a handwriting examination confirmed that the signature on behalf of Kostyantyn Kubets, CEO of Dniprovend, was made by another person in the documents submitted for the backpack tender, NABU said.
Examinations conducted by NABU also determined that back in February 2015 the market price of equivalent backpacks was Hr 555 per unit, compared with Hr 2,899 per unit paid for backpacks supplied by Dniprovend.
In 2016, a court convicted Dniprovend CEO Kubets of “fictitious entrepreneurship” as part of the backpack case.
NABU found that the tender allegedly won by Dniprovend was in fact set up.
Lytvyn submitted fake documents to the bidding committee and provided a sample of a backpack allegedly made by Dniprovend, the NABU said.
In February 2015, the competitive bidding committee accepted Dniprovend’s proposal to supply 5,000 backpacks with the delivery date until April 1, 2015, at a price of Hr 2,899 per backpack.
Lytvyn arrived to the Interior
Ministry and gave a fake document on behalf of Dniprovend’s CEO to represent the firm’s interests. Then he submitted documents to the ministry with fake signatures and seals, the NABU said.
Kubets has also testified that he was not aware of the participation of his company in the purchase of the backpacks, did not sign the tender documents, was not acquainted with Lytvyn and did not issue a power of attorney for him, according to NABU.
Meanwhile, Oleh Shevchuk, former first deputy head of the Interior Ministry’s procurement department, has confirmed the content of the conversation in the video regarding the backpack purchase, the bureau said.
Shevchuk told NABU detectives that Avakov and People’s Front lawmakers — allies of Avakov — had pressured him, the NABU source told the Kyiv Post.
Meanwhile, another video has been leaked to YouTube from the same footage from Chebotar’s office.
In the video, Chebotar, the Interior Ministry’s State Secretary Oleksiy Takhtai and state firm Spetsvervis CEO Vasyl Petrivsky, an ex-aide to Avakov, negotiate a corrupt deal to sell sand at a rigged auction.
In the video, Chebotar implicates the minister himself in the deal, saying that Avakov is also aware of the scheme and is worried that the sand has not been sold yet. Avakov claims the video is a fake.
Takhtai and Chebotar were inves- tigated by the National Police in the sand case but it closed the case against them, the NABU source said.
NABU has tried to take the case from the National Police, which has been accused of having a conflict of interest in investigating its superiors, and resume the investigation, but police refused to transfer it, the NABU source said. The authenticity of the video has been confirmed by forensic examinations by Ukrainian and foreign specialists, according to the source. The National Police declined to comment.
According to Ukraine’s court register, the video was recorded by Ukraine’s Security Service and has been recognized as genuine.
Petrivsky has already pled guilty and has been given a suspended sentence for the scheme.
Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center, speaks at a rally against discredited Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky on July 17. She holds a backpack - a symbol of the backpack supplies case against Interior Minister Arsen Avakov's son Oleksandr and Avakov's former deputy Serhiy Chebotar. The case was closed by Kholodnytsky's office in July despite the ample evidence of wrongdoing by Oleksandr Avakov and Chebotar, including video footage. (Oleg Petrasiuk)
Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky (L) talks to journalists during a meeting of the High Qualification Commission of Prosecutors on July 26. (AFP)