“I Don’t Feel Corrupt” – National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Director Sytnyk

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On the air of recent hromadske program, Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, spoke about why there are attempts to get him fired, whether NABU complied with Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s instructions to “bring something to the table”, the new Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova, Andriy Yermak’s brother’s “negotiations,” Petro Poroshenko’s associate Oleg Gladkovsky’s case, and former justice minister under Mykola Azarov, Olena Lukash.

NABU detectives served former MP Oleksandr Presman with charges of illegally receiving almost 1,000,000 hryvnias ($37,561) in compensation for rent. Are there other similar criminal proceedings?

There are over 10 such cases. Some have already gone to court, and some even have sentences. Recently an agreement was signed – where a former MP pleaded guilty, a plea bargain was signed, and he reimbursed the state in full. In total, over 2,000,000 hryvnias ($75,122) were returned to the budget in this category of cases – where the investigation found that compensation for housing was unlawful.

So about a dozen deputies of the previous convocation?

Yes.

MP Oleksandr Dubinsky wrote that some of the digital databases with personal data, which recently appeared on the Internet, were found during searches of NABU employee Bohdan Kurbakov. Is that true?

Mr. Dubinsky rushed as usual – he lied a little, he heard a little. This person has never worked for us. In reality, as far as we know, he did once apply for a job at the NABU, did not succeed, and then worked in law enforcement. That’s all.

I wanted to talk about the peculiarities of working in NABU during the term of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. One of the first things he did after the inauguration was to meet with you and the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), Nazar Kholodnytskyi. And gave you three months to bring something to the table. “I give three months for some results” – sounds like pressure.

Personally, I did not perceive it as pressure, because I did not have the feeling that we were not doing anything, and then we were given three months to do something. And that’s why this phrase “three months” meant nothing to me. We continued to work, but after this meeting, I noted for myself that certain dynamics of the relationship between NABU and SAPO has improved.

At that meeting, did Zelenskyy tell you what would happen if there was no result in three months?

There was none of this “if not, then…” [business]. Three months have passed, but the pace we had taken continues.

On January 17, Volodymyr Zelenskyy gathered the heads of almost all law enforcement agencies, talked about the recordings of Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk’s meeting leaked online, and said that he had given a fortnight to be told who recorded it. Isn’t that pressure?

When someone makes such records, possibly unlawfully, and then posts them on the Internet, it does not add credibility to the state. Therefore, I think that setting a priority to combat this phenomenon is a correct request of the president.

Okay, we talked about Dubinsky. He and in fact a whole group of MPs are working to get you dismissed. Did you talk about this with the president?

No. And I don’t know what position there is. I am so used to it that we, in principle, understand what exactly these attempts are, what they are based on, but it has been going on for a long time, a very long time, so we do, of course, pay attention to it, but we continue to work.

Do you think [oligarch Ihor] Kolomoisky is behind this?

Not just him. This trend began, probably, in March 2017, when the former head of the fiscal service (Roman Nasirov – ed.) was detained and declared a suspect, and then the most powerful media attacks, some protocols, registration of proceedings, and the like, against me and employees of the anti-corruption bureau began. And after that such cases grew in number and, accordingly, such attempts increased too. I remember December 2017, when a bill was submitted by two factions, [Arseniy Yatsenyuk’s] People’s Front and Petro Poroshenko’s Bloc, to simplify the procedure for dismissing the head of the anti-corruption bureau. Then it all came to nothing. And such attempts have so far ended in mostly nothing, because it is so obvious that it is easy to calculate which of the oligarchs is currently launching all these attacks. To date, two cases are most pressing for one of the oligarchs: Ukrnafta, where the losses exceed 10 billion hryvnias ($375.6 million). Then there’s the case of PrivatBank. These are the two cases in which the amount of damages is more than half of the total amount established in those cases that are currently being investigated by the anti-corruption bureau.

Earlier this year, the decision of the Court of Appeal in Rivne region that you allegedly committed an administrative offense came into force. That is – you had a vacation in hunting grounds in the Rivne region costing 25,000 hryvnias ($939), and allegedly didn’t pay up. The court found you guilty. You claimed that you gave the money to the person who paid for it. Nevertheless, you are included in the unified register of persons who have committed offenses related to corruption. And this group of MPs claims that since you are the director of NABU, it should be possible to dismiss you. And they are trying to change the law. Correct?

Yes.

Okay, did you ever think about resigning after this court decision?

If I were guilty, then maybe that would be the solution. But the court was actually a farce, the pressure on the judges was obvious, and most importantly, there was no possibility of a cassation appeal against this decision.

Formally, we have the situation we have.

Formally, yes, but we have a rule in the Administrative Code that in case of recognition of certain violations, and they are listed in the appeal to the European Court, it is the basis for review of the decision. That is why I submitted this appeal, it has been in the European Court for more than a month.

Consequently, the situation is such that the Ukrainian judiciary cannot be trusted.

No, there is a court decision, and you can’t get away from it. But the specificity of administrative offenses is that their protocols and court decisions cannot be appealed in cassation. And what we saw in the first instance – when the judge is a participant in the investigation of bribery, and this case was investigated by the Interior Ministry together with the prosecutor’s office, which supports this protocol, and we see that this judge is actually on the hook, and we write about it in a statement about withdrawal, and all this is ignored and a decision is made, which is based on the words of one person, and the words of this person are refuted by three people who were on vacation at this time… This is a direct path to the fact that if you don’t do as those who have administrative resources like, you’ll get a protocol and a road to resignation.

Don’t you get the impression that people abroad are more interested in you staying in office than in Ukraine?

Let’s be honest. Many corruption processes are carried out in the interests of a limited number of people called oligarchs. And then this war begins. It happened before, and it is happening now. So it seems that, of course, if no one tried to stop us, it would probably be a sign that we are not doing anything at all.

Abroad people see what is happening in the country and what we have done in these five years. And our foreign partners, if they give us loans, must understand that there are transparent rules of the game in Ukraine, and there is no corruption. And when they see that there is a body that is trying to create these rules of the game, and the resistance that is being made, they analyze, evaluate, and have an opinion on the matter.​

In fact, this is not a blow to me, but to the institution itself, which there is simply a desire to stop. There are conversations like: “let’s have the NABU join the [State Bureau of Investigations]”, as a department and so on. In fact, NABU is not just about Artem Sytnyk, it is almost 700 employees who have proved in five years that they can do things, that they are not afraid to investigate cases that had never been investigated before.

You spoke about the idea that really means: to merge the State Bureau of Investigation and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. A month ago, a film was released on the anniversary of Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s election victory, and the president said similar things there.

Perhaps. I do not rule this out. However, it would probably be more logical for the SBI to join the NABU, as this body has not been fully established. We are an operationally independent body, launched within the framework provided by law, and have all the capacity to conduct our own investigations.

The same Dubinsky and a group of other deputies appealed to the Constitutional Court with a request regarding the possible unconstitutionality of President Poroshenko’s decree appointing you to office. What do you expect from the Constitutional Court?

It is difficult to predict here, but based on past experience, we can say that anything can happen. I would like to remind you of some decisions. For example, when the institution of responsibility for illicit enrichment appeared, cases appeared in this category. They concerned heads of state bodies, high-ranking law enforcement officials. And when these cases approached the verdicts, we had a decision of the Constitutional Court, and this law was declared unconstitutional. It was a big step backward in anti-corruption reform. And it would probably be better if the decision of the Constitutional Court was made immediately, and not after this article appeared, investigations were conducted, people were involved.​

That is, you do not trust the Constitutional Court very much?

I’m just commenting on some decisions of the Constitutional Court.

At the end of the term of ex-Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, you said that legal logic and the Prosecutor General in Ukraine are not very compatible things. On the contrary, you spoke positively about his successor Rouslan Riaboshapka. What about the current Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova?

Very little time has passed. I hope that there will be constructive cooperation. I can only say that there really was collaboration with Riaboshapka that was effective. Many of our cases were taken away by the former Prosecutor General Lutsenko and handed over to other bodies.

And Riaboshapka returned them?

Of course. The case of Oleg Bakhmatyuk, the case of Vadym Alperin. Now we have the opportunity to complete these cases. By the way, do you know that 30,000,000 hryvnias ($1.1 million) was collected by the budget on the bail in the case of Alperin? Therefore, I hope that this trend, which was set by Riaboshapka, will continue.

You see, the court ordered NABU to register criminal proceedings against Irina Venediktova for possible false declarations. The court ordered the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office to register criminal proceedings against former Prosecutor General Rouslan Riaboshapka, also due to possible false declarations. But these proceedings were registered at the request of the court, i.e. the prosecutor and the detective, respectively, saw no reason to open these proceedings. Does this mean that they essentially have no prospects?

This cannot be said at once. But in general, the system of registration of proceedings causes a lot of debate. Because there is, if we are talking about corruption offenses, an element of abuse of the right to appeal to law enforcement agencies – when completely blank claims are written, which are meaningless, but with the requirement to register proceedings against all politicians. But there are cases, quite a few actually, that were registered by court decisions, and they ended in charges and were sent to court.

For example?

“Rotterdam +”. The case was registered by a court decision. Now there are a number of suspects.

What about Svynarchuks? This is the case of the Gladkovskys and thefts in Ukroboronprom (association of multi-product enterprises in various sectors of the defense industry of Ukraine – ed.). This is specifically about the correspondence and schemes covered in the Bihus.info material last year. It’s about the ex-head of Ukroboronprom Pavlo Bukin, about the micromanagement of contracts, overestimation of the prices for altimeters.

The altimeter proceedings are being investigated separately, and it was registered last year. Just recently, we announced a number of charges, including to Vitaliy Zhukov, Andriy Rohoza, and a number of people connected with “Optimus Spetsdetali” company.

There are now five suspects in the case. Probably, there will be more of them, but here I must note that for more than seven months the prosecutor’s office refused to give us phones from which correspondence was conducted.

Last week, at a court hearing, the SAPO prosecutor announced that Vitaliy Zhukov’s mobile phone had been returned and he had destroyed it.

This is according to Zhukov’s own statement, and according to the receipts in the case. And this was when the case was in the military prosecutor’s office.

Excuse me, but how could material evidence just be taken and given to the person?

This is also being investigated. Theoretically, it is possible, but on certain grounds. As to the case on “Optimus Spetsdetali”, it was actually directed to court for release from criminal liability of two persons. And the court did not agree with this decision, returned the case to the prosecutor’s office, and only when Rouslan Riaboshapka appeared, the case finally got to the anti-corruption bureau. And yes – for seven months we were not given the case nor phones.

Do you have the phones now?

None.

Not a single one?

There are two of them, in fact. Still, we were able to get something about this correspondence. But the biggest problem is that we don’t have the phones themselves. Therefore, we have to prove that we are now incriminating five people on the basis of alternative evidence.

Does that mean the original correspondence is also unavailable?

Well, if you call the original correspondence “phone”, of course, it’s… But, you know, maybe we’ll find them. I’m just not entirely sure that this receipt for the return of the phones, and the statement that the phone was returned and destroyed, is true. That’s why we are also checking this.

One of the aspects is the possible participation of NABU employees in this story. It was also about Andriy Koluzhynskyi, who heads the detective department of the pre-trial investigation body. And as to detectives Dmytro Lytvynenko and Oleh Borysenko – there was a conclusion about disciplinary violations on them, after an internal investigation. What’s with them now?

They are working. It was they who were partially responsible for establishing the five suspects.

That is, you did not find grounds to include them in the circle of suspects?

No.

Is it true that Andriy Koluzhynskyi is a friend of yours?

Yes.

There is no conflict of interest?

First, the investigation was not conducted by me, but by the Internal Security Department. And our international partners were also involved. There was a fairly complete inspection, and there were some personnel decisions to bring to disciplinary responsibility.

And was Mr. Koluzhynskyi your friend before or after becoming a NABU employee?

Before.

That is, at the time of the competition?

He passed the competition, a public council investigated this fact, and there was a rather strict approach to selection. In general, if we talk about the circle of people I knew before the appointment to the position of director, then there are – if I’m not mistaken – no more than 13 people. They all passed the open competition.

The Leros clips, which show the brother of the current head of the President’s Office Denys Yermak agreeing on some appointments. How is this [case] proceeding?

To date, I don’t know, because the decision of the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office transferred the case to another investigative unit, if I’m not mistaken, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU).

Due to what?

To be honest, I have not read the decision. Probably because there is no crime that is anti-corruption bureau’s jurisdiction.

Is this the decision of the prosecutor of the Specialized anti-corruption prosecutor’s office?

No other prosecutor can do this. Well, or the Prosecutor General. Here it was a decision of – I don’t remember who exactly – but an employee of the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office.

Do you suspect that this could harm the proceedings?

I hope not. We began to look for traces of the legality of these records. It is implied that this may have been carried out by a competent authority on the basis of certain permits. But at the time of the transfer of the case, we did not find such traces. In this case, you need to understand that the record itself has two components: the appurtenance of the evidence and the admissibility of the evidence. Appurtenance is when it confirms certain data, facts, and admissibility is when it is obtained legally. We always have problems with the second component, because there are systematic dumps of certain records, but no one wants to take responsibility. I do not rule out that they were conducted in violation of the law.

And then they will be declared inadmissible evidence and the case is over?

Proving the admissibility of evidence is the task of the prosecutor in the process, as well as the detective.

The Lukash case. In September, Viktor Chumak, the then deputy prosecutor general, served former justice minister Olena Lukash (2013-2014) with charges. The case was transferred to the SAPO, what’s up with it now?

The case cannot be transferred to the SAPO. The case can be transferred to an investigative body. The investigative body is NABU.

To NABU.

There was such a decision. Detectives were included in the group, but the case was already being transferred at the stage when the prosecutor announced the end of the pre-trial investigation, and we did not physically receive it.

That means, in the Lukash case, the pre-trial investigation has been completed?

Yes. There is a prosecutor’s decision of such kind.

© 2020 Hromadske International

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