The Kyiv Administrative District Court on Jan. 21 re-elected Pavlo Vovk, a suspect in a high-profile obstruction of justice case, as its chairman, triggering a backlash from civil society.
Vovk had been the court’s chairman since 2010. In August, he temporarily stepped down and was replaced by Volodymyr Keleberda.
Vovk’s resignation came after he was charged with issuing unlawful rulings and obstructing justice. His case has been in the spotlight for months, and audio recordings published by law enforcers in the case appear to implicate many of the country’s top officials in corrupt practices.
Vovk has denied the accusations of wrongdoing.
The Anti-Corruption Action Center, the DEJURE legal think-tank and members of the Public Integrity Council all lambasted Vovk’s reelection. They argued that his comeback is a major sign that the country’s corrupt judiciary is escaping reform.
The Vovk case now appears to have stalled indefinitely. In November, prosecutors missed a five-day deadline set by a court to send the case to trial.
Yulia Malashych, a prosecutor in the case, told the Kyiv Post that prosecutors could not have sent the case to trial within five days because they needed to give the defendants’ lawyers more time to study the materials of the case. She said it could take months for them to do so.
However, Vitaly Tytych, the former coordinator of the Public Integrity Council, said the law did not require Malashych to wait until suspects are finished studying the case materials. He added that the expiration of the five-day deadline means a court is unlikely to accept the case for trial.
On Aug. 2, the Prosecutor General’s Office pressed charges against Vovk and two other judges on his court, Yevhen Ablov and Igor Pogribinchenko, as well as against Ivan Shepitko, a judge at Odesa’s Suvorovsky District Court. The judges have denied all accusations of wrongdoing.
In recordings published by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, voices alleged to belong to Vovk and other judges discuss arranging fake lawsuits to suspend the authority of members of the High Qualification Commission — the judicial body that vets, hires and fires judges — and holding fake competitions to replace them.
The recorded voices, including the one believed to be Vovk, also discuss taking bribes for court rulings and acquiring expensive jewelry and old coins.
According to previous summonses, the judges have also been investigated for forgery, abuse of power, negligence, bribery and issuing unlawful rulings against protesters during the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution.
Vovk has also been investigated in an illicit enrichment case by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. However, the case was closed in 2019 due to a controversial Constitutional Court ruling that canceled the illicit enrichment law.
In October, the Verkhovna Rada voted to re-criminalize illicit enrichment.
In a 2019 interview, he said that former President Petro Poroshenko and his inner circle had repeatedly met with him and tried to force him to make certain rulings. Poroshenko’s press office did not respond to requests for comment.
According to recordings released by investigators, Vovk had discussed keeping Zenovy Kholodnyuk, head of the State Judicial Administration, in his job with Oleksandr Hranovsky, an ex-lawmaker who was accused of influencing law enforcement under Poroshenko. Hranovsky has denied that.
In 2016, Vovk was filmed by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty meeting with Hranovsky.
Meanwhile, Roman Ratushny, founder of a group that fights illegal construction, said in 2019 that members of his group had seen High Council of Justice members Volodymyr Hovorukha and Andriy Ovsienko enter the presidential office on the eve of the council’s decision not to suspend Vovk amid the criminal case against him.
Ratushny said that, according to his information, the council members discussed keeping Vovk on his job with President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Chief of Staff, Andriy Bohdan.
The High Council of Justice told the Slidstvo.info investigative journalism project that Hovorukha and Ovsienko had visited the presidential office to discuss judicial reform. Bohdan did not respond to requests for comment on the issue. Vovk could not be reached for comment directly, and the Kyiv Administrative District Court did not respond to a request for comment.
Vovk’s court has issued some highly questionable rulings — such as the suspension of former acting Health Minister Ulana Suprun from her position and the reinstatement of ex-State Fiscal Service Chief Roman Nasirov, who was charged with corruption. Nasirov, whose case is still in court, denies accusations.