Committee backs NABU chief’s potential dismissal, jeopardizes IMF cooperation

National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine head Artem Sytnyk speaks with the Kyiv Post on Feb. 18, 2020.Photo by Kostyantyn ChernichkinPopular
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The Verkhovna Rada’s law enforcement committee on April 28 supported a bill that will allow the dismissal of Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU).

The bill may be considered by the Rada on April 30 but has not been included in the agenda yet.

The legislation has been pushed by allies of billionaire oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, who has been investigated by the NABU.

If passed, the bill may derail loans from the International Monetary Fund.

Essence of the bill

The bill allows the firing of any top officials included in the register of corrupt officials, including those who committed misdemeanors (known in Ukraine as “administrative infractions”). Under current Ukrainian law, a misdemeanor cannot be grounds for firing the head of the NABU.

The bill would allow the dismissal of Sytnyk because a court found him guilty of “receiving an unlawful benefit,” a misdemeanor, in September after an acquaintance testified that he paid some Hr 25,000 ($924) for Sytnyk’s vacations in 2018 and 2019.

Sytnyk denied the accusations of wrongdoing. He said that he had asked the acquaintance, Mykola Nadeiko, to rent a house and then repaid him, and Nadeiko had not filed any claims against him.

Sytnyk wanted the judge who considered the case, Oleksiy Rudy, to be recused because he believes he was biased against anti-graft institutions. He said that Rudy, who rejected the recusal request, had been investigated for allegedly receiving a bribe.

Rivne Oblast’s Sarny District Court, where Rudy works, did not respond to a request for comment.

IMF demands

The NABU is currently seen as more independent than other law enforcement agencies, which appears to have irritated both ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s administration and the current one. President Volodymyr Zelensky’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the issue.

“It’s a legislative change that destroys the NABU’s independence,” Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, told the Kyiv Post. “These guarantees of independence were stipulated in the requirements of the IMF’s previous program. The non-fulfillment of the previous program makes it impossible to sign a new one.”

Shabunin argued that the NABU will not be independent after the bill’s adoption because it will be easy to fire its heads by fabricating administrative cases.

“If they pass this law, the IMF won’t give any money for sure,” he said. “If there’s no IMF money, there will be a default.”

The IMF said it could not comment on the record.

Ambassadors of the G7 group of advanced economies have also opposed Sytnyk’s dismissal.

In March Sytnyk and the former prosecutor general, Ruslan Riaboshapka, were supported by Ukraine’s major civil society watchdogs, including the Anti-Corruption Action Center, Transparency International Ukraine, StateWatch, AutoMaidan, DEJURE, Chesno and others.

They argued that the motion to dismiss Sytnyk was “unprecedented lawlessness” and “an assault on the bureau’s independence.”

Kolomoisky’s influence

Allies of Kolomoisky have largely spearheaded the campaign to fire Sytnyk and registered a motion to dismiss him. The motion was backed not only by lawmakers from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, but also by controversial members of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform — For Life party and allies of Poroshenko.

Both the Prosecutor General’s Office and the NABU have led an embezzlement case into PrivatBank, which was formerly co-owned by Kolomooisky, and Sytnyk believes the campaign to be a reprisal against him by Kolomoisky and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

(C)KYIV POST 2020

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