Ukraine took two steps forward and one step back in the fight against corruption
In the West, they again remembered the corruption around President Zelensky.
Despite Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we cannot stop on the issues of eradicating corruption in Ukraine and bringing its judicial system in line with the criteria for rapprochement with the EU. On this indicates American edition of Politico.
The opinion of the author may not coincide with the opinion of the editors.
As the EU is set to publish reports on Kyiv's progress on this front in March, and then again in October, Ukraine's rule of law progress is faster than expected, but it's a case of two steps forward and one (very troubling) step back.
President of France Emmanuel Macron declared in May that Kyiv, "in all likelihood, there will be several decades to come" before EU membership, and the countries of Western Europe express constant concern about insecurity, corruption and the cost of rebuilding a war-torn country.
In this context, Ukraine is now moving surprisingly fast. Appointment of a new chief prosecutor gave impetus to the fight against bribery: in many high-profile cases, sentences were eventually handed down. Ukrainian parliament also liquidated the Kyiv administrative district court, infamous as the most corrupt court in Ukraine.
On the other hand, now growing concerns about the constitutional court, with its supreme legal oversight that can override government decisions. The new reform threatens political interference in the body that will filter candidates for judges. This could become a serious obstacle to Ukraine's European aspirations. Both the European Commission and the Venice Commission, the Council of Europe's advisory body on constitutional law, have already sounded the alarm.
Step forward #1
The liquidation of the Kievsky Administrative District Court is seen as one of the most positive steps in the fight against corruption, but it did not come easy.
The President of Ukraine Vladimir Zelensky introduced a bill to eliminate the court as a matter of priority back in April 2021. However, the Ukrainian parliament only did so on December 13, four days after the US State Department imposed sanctions on its chairman. Pavel Vovk for extorting bribes in exchange for interfering in judicial and other public processes.
In 2020, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) released the so-called “Vovk’s tapes” — wiretaps of both judges of the Administrative Court and leading lawyers in connection with the criminal case against Vovk — which revealed a large number of false claims, illegal rulings, and Vovk’s pressure on judges and officials.
Vovk himself called the liquidation of the court a "hasty decision" by the parliament, taken under pressure from "certain groups of activists and lobbyists." British Ambassador Melinda Simmons, in contrast, called it "a good day for judicial reform".
Step forward #2
The second major achievement was the appointment Alexandra Klimenko Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor.
In 2021, the notorious Kyiv Administrative District Court blocked the appointment of a former NABU detective. Klymenko became famous for investigating a case of bribery against another high-ranking official in the Zelensky administration: Oleg Tatarov, Deputy Head of the President's Office. Although Tatarov was charged with bribery, his case was transferred from the jurisdiction of independent anti-corruption bodies to the SBU. Shortly thereafter, the case died down.
Tatarov publicly promised to prove his innocence and said that the case against him was a personal revenge Artem Sytnik, the then head of NABU.
Only in July of this year, Klymenko was appointed the new head of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office after almost two years of delays and enormous pressure from international partners.
Big step back
On the same day that Ukraine liquidated the administrative court, it made a serious mistake in reforming its most important Constitutional Court.
On December 13, the Ukrainian parliament voted in favor of a law reforming the Constitutional Court, but observers pointed to the possibility of political interference in the appointment of judges in the new system.
The new procedure provides for the creation of an advisory group of three government officials and three independent experts with the same number of votes in the selection of judges. They chose candidates by simple majority vote. The group's decision is also not final, allowing candidates who fail the evaluation to still run for seats at the Constitutional Court.
On December 19, the Venice Commission recommended that the new law be amended to include a seventh member in the advisory group to give independent experts a decisive vote in the selection. She also recommended that the decisions of the advisory group be made binding, depriving candidates with negative assessments of the opportunity to become judges of the Constitutional Court.
However, it was not until the next day that Zelensky, on his way from the front-line town of Bakhmut to Washington, signed the bill.
Need pressure from abroad
Ukrainian civil society groups called on international partners to continue to put pressure on the reform of the Constitutional Court. However, due to the Russian invasion, some foreign partners are now shying away from public criticism of Kyiv, so as not to play into the hands of Russia or Ukraine's critics in the EU.
On December 23, the European Commission intervened. Anna Pisonero, spokeswoman for EU enlargement, said the Commission expects the Ukrainian authorities to fully implement the recommendations of the Venice Commission and will monitor the process.
Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, said that if nothing is changed, the new selection procedure will effective control of the Constitutional Court by the presidential administration.
A sign of the importance of the Constitutional Court is crisis in 2020when the court declared some parts of the law of Ukraine unconstitutional. This decision abolished public access to electronic property declarations, as well as criminal penalties for lying in an electronic declaration. These changes have practically paralyzed the fight against corruption in Ukraine. The court's decision was criticized by the Venice Commission and condemned by the international community.
Thanks to this, more than a thousand officials escaped responsibility for lies in declarations, and only the efforts of the authorities and the public made it possible to neutralize the threat to the anti-corruption infrastructure. As a result, the ex-chairman of the court fled abroad.
Asked why Zelenskiy is now signing such a controversial law, Dejure Foundation Chairman Mikhail Zhernakov said that although the Ukrainian government is doing a lot to bring Ukraine closer to the EU, there are still people in the President's Office who resist change.
Civil society is preparing to fight back, although now the field for criticism is limited due to the war. Zhernakov said there was a risk that Russia would unfairly use such criticism of the Constitutional Court to portray Ukraine as undemocratic and corrupt.
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