Ukraine top court deals another blow to anti-corruption bureau

A Ukrainian activists with a rope around his neck, takes part in a protest in front of the General Prosecutors office in Kiev, Ukraine, 17 August 2016. The protestors demanded the stop of illegal persecution of NABU officials. The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) has faced the first open unlawful confront of the other law enforcement bodies of Ukraine, being under the Bureau's investigation. [EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO EPA/SERGEY DOLZHENKO]

The Constitutional Court of Ukraine struck down several provisions of the law on the Western-backed National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) in the latest blow to the country’s anti-graft drive.

Among the parts of the law the court scrapped are provisions that gave the president powers to form the bureau, appoint and sack its director, and appoint members of the commission that runs the selection process for the investigative body’s chief.

Parliament will have three months to bring the law in line with the final and unappealable ruling or risk the functioning of the agency, set up in 2015 after a push from Ukraine’s international partners, including the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

This is the second blow Ukraine’s highest court has dealt to the anti-graft body, after it declared unconstitutional the appointment of Artem Sytnyk as NABU director last month. Sytnyk has so far been able to hold on to his post.

Both cases were brought before the court by a group 50 MPs, mostly from the pro-Russian faction Opposition Platform — For Life.

NABU has said the cases against it are politically motivated.

The bureau has recently made public a series of allegations against a ring of judges who “planned to seize state power”, with Pavlo Vovk, the head of the Kyiv administrative court, at its centre.

NABU has released tape recordings that it says contain the voice of Vovk and fellow judges conspiring to influence other courts and government bodies through corrupt rulings. Vovk has denied the allegations.

In another recent scandal, NABU said Ukraine’s general prosecutor, Iryna Venedyktova, had ignored its calls to initiate the process of charging an MP who is suspected of asking for hundreds of thousands of dollars for himself and fellow members of a parliamentary committee in return for submitting amendments to legislation.

On Thursday (17 September), Venedyktova signed the documents and the lawmaker in question turned out to be Oleksandr Yurchenko of the ruling Servant of the People party, according to Interfax-Ukraine.

Commenting on the case, President’s office said that “Mr Yurchenko lost the ethical ground to be a member of Verkhovna Rada,” the country’s parliament.

Venedyktova, widely regarded as loyal to President Volodymyr Zelensky, was appointed this spring after her publicly acclaimed predecessor was sacked.

Venedyktova is the public face of the several dozen investigations into former president Petro Poroshenko, seen by many as politically motivated.

Poroshenko said he was “deeply concerned about the developments on the Ukrainian anticorruption institutions.”

“I would like to remind that the issue of independence and efficiency of the anticorruption system is an integral part of our international commitments to the IMF and the European Union, in particular as regards the visa free regime and the macrofinancial assistance, he added.”

Ukraine: Poroshenko cases unfold into a 'tik-tok' war

A Kyiv district court has decided not to order pre-trial restrictive measures against former President Petro Poroshenko, and the country’s prosecutor general accused his defence team of attempting to stall the process by questioning “absolutely everything”.

Venedyktova came under fire last week from civil society organisations after appointing Maksym Yakubovskyi as her deputy.

Human rights and justice watchdogs said Yakubovskyi had worked for “Legal State” between 2011-2013, an organisation whose analytics “Russian politicians actively used in their attempts to discredit the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement.”

Calling for Yakubovskyi’s dismissal, the civil society organisations said in a statement,  whose signatories include Transparency International Ukraine and Anti-Corruption Action Center, that Legal State “is directly related to” Putin-allied politician and oligarch Viktor Medvedchuk.

NABU forms one of the three legs of Ukraine’s anti-corruption architecture formed with Western support, together with the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office (SAPO) and a dedicated anti-graft court, independent from the rest of the judicial and executive branches.

Issues have recently arisen with SAPO as well, after its chief Nazar Kholodnytsky announced his retirement in August.

The European Union, Germany, UK, and the World Bank warned the Ukrainian parliament in early September about its decision to change the composition of the commission tasked with selecting the new SAPO Chief, UNIAN news website reported.

“While the international community is occupied with Belarus, Ukraine government is hastily pushing candidates lacking experience and integrity to select SAPO head,” Viola von Cramon, the vice-chair of the European Parliament’s committee linking Ukrainian and EU lawmakers, tweeted on Thursday (17 September).

“Government is jeopardising visa-free with the EU and further tranche of €1,5 billion assistance,” the Greens/EFA parliamentarian added.

The first $2.1 billion tranche of the new 1.5-year $5 billion IMF “stand-by arrangement” loan, needed to prop up Ukraine’s developing economy amid the coronavirus storm, was disbursed in the summer but future instalments will be subject to reviews.

The EU — which has also offered a €1.2 billion macro-financial assistance package as a complement to the IMF support — for its part has said that its loan programme for Ukraine “could be jeopardised” should the IMF consider its programme with  Kyiv “off-track”.

On Wednesday, G7 ambassadors pointed out that Ukraine must demonstrate political will to protect the independence of its national bank and integrity of anti-corruption institutions “to ensure corruption does not erode reform progress made so far.”

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic and Georgi Gotev]

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