Sergii Leshchenko: How corrupt Ukrainian court helped Giuliani’s conspiracy
Leaked audio recordings of Ukrainian officials are the soundtrack for Ukrainian politics.
There were quite a few recently.
In January, then-Prime Minister Oleksiy Honcharuk was targeted in audio leak where he was caught making unfavorable comments about President Volodymyr Zelensky.
In May, Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach released tape fragments with voices resembling those of former U. S. Vice President Joe Biden, ex-President Petro Poroshenko, and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. It was largely seen as a Russian provocation designed to tarnish Ukraine. Derkach has been a proponent of the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.
And in 2019, the Verkhovna Rada members had a chance to listen to a leaked recording in which Yulia Tymoshenko calls oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky, congratulating him on his birthday and thanking him for being a “real partner and friend.”
Now Ukraine has a new audio blockbuster.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) has uncovered a criminal group within Kyiv’s District Administrative Court — the main court for appealing against government decisions. The bureau collected and the media published recordings of conversations between the court’s top judges.
The operation may lead to a clean-up of one of the hotbeds of corruption in our country.
After conducting searches last week, the NABU issued a notice of suspicion to the chairman of the District Administrative Court of Pavlo Vovk, his deputy and five other judges of this court, as well as the head of the State Judicial Administration. The names of the defendants are not familiar even to Ukrainians, because only the actions of the authorities were appealed in this special court.
But it was this court that claimed the status of the top justice in the country.
The Administrative Court has a lot of trophies on this corruption safari.
This court saved tobacco producers and the monopolist TedisUkraine from fines.
The court has banned anyone from fining oligarch Kolomoisky’s oil companies.
It also declared the nationalization of Kolmoisky’s PrivatBank illegal.
Following this decision, Ukraine’s Western partners demanded the country’s lawmakers to pass a bill that would stop Kolomoisky from overturning nationalization of PrivatBank.
This court reinstated Roman Nasirov, the ex-head of the Fiscal Service of Ukraine, who has citizenship of several countries and is under investigation by the NABU.
It also ruled to dismiss the head of the Health Ministry, Ulana Suprun.
It seems like there should a price list for the rulings hanging at the entrance of this court.
In the recordings collected by the NABU, there is an episode where the head of the court dreams of becoming a judge of the Constitutional Court, to which his colleagues ironically reply: “And what are you going to do there for $10,000 a month?”
This is a very high salary for Ukrainian bureaucrats, but not for corrupt officials.
A common rumor has it the District Court judges wouldn’t get off the couch if they didn’t receive a bribe in the amount twice as much.
In another recording, the judges themselves admit to being corrupt. This recording is dated early March 2019, three weeks before the presidential election, when it became clear that Poroshenko was doomed to lose. In a conversation with his subordinate, the head of the court, Vovk, recalls a conversation with Poroshenko’s close associate, a member of his party, Oleksandr Hranovsky. Hranovsky had the informal status of Poroshenko’s mediator for the courts. After losing his lawmaker’s immunity in August 2019, Hranovsky reportedly fled to Israel. Hranovsky was alarmed by rumors that the district court will establish that there is no coalition in parliament, which would mean the announcement of snap elections. In the recording, Vovk says that he responded to him: “Did you doubt our political prostitution?”
Vovk himself was on vacation abroad when the NABU announced the charges against him. He commented on the situation using the rhetoric of Viktor Medvedchuk, a Ukrainian pro-Kremlin politician close to Putin.
Vovk said that this investigation was conducted by some “foreign agents” who deprived Ukraine of sovereignty and try to control President Volodymyr Zelensky’s actions. It is possible that with these narratives, Vovk could be gathering evidence for asylum in Russia.
Giuliani comes up
But in one case, the District Court surpassed even the wildest corrupt fantasies. Moreover, it gained great fame across the world, in the U.S.
This ruling concerned me and the head of NABU Artem Sytnyk, and it said that we illegally interfered in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. It was the exact ruling that Donald Trump’s attorney Rudy Giuliani showed on air on CNN and Fox News, fueling the conspiracy theory that eventually led to impeachment inquiry against Trump. To understand this bizarre situation, we would need to go back in time to May 2019.
Zelensky has just won the presidential election in Ukraine, but he has not yet taken office. A few days before his inauguration, Trump’s attorney announces a trip to Kyiv to get a private meeting with Zelensky.
The goal is to convince the new government to follow the “Russian narrative.” That is, to investigate that it was not Russia but Ukraine that interfered with the 2016 U.S. presidential election to help Trump win — but rather, Ukrainians interfered to help his opponent, Hillary Clinton.
So how did Sytnyk and I “interfere” in the American election?
Not by hiring an army of hackers. No, we “interfered” because… we published the so-called “black ledger” (a list of secret payments made by Ukraine’s pro-Russian Party of Regions) of disgraced ex-President Viktor Yanukovych.
There were many names on the ledger, but one got us the accusation of interference in the U.S. election. That name was Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman. He appeared on the ledger, listed there as getting hundreds of thousands of dollars in shadow payments.
After this, under the pressure of facts, Manafort left, and two years later was found guilty by a jury and received 7.5 years in prison. To neutralize these facts and push through the narrative of Ukrainian interference, Giuliani want-ed to fly to Ukraine to negotiate with Zelensky. However, at the last moment, he canceled his visit, explaining it with the fact that Zelensky would be surrounded by “enemies of the USA” and “enemies of President Trump” — and mentioned my name.
And now for the fun part.
To back his accusations, Giuliani used the December 2018 ruling of Kyiv’s District Court where I was found guilty of interfering in the U.S. elections. Obviously, Giuliani has never heard of the existence of such an institution in his life but was misled by his Ukrainian accomplices. That court ruling was a mockery of justice.
The District Administrative Court had no right to accept lawsuits against the lawmakers, which I was at that time. The Supreme Court prohibits this. The lawsuit against me and the head of the NABU, Artem Sytnyk, was filed by a notoriously corrupt lawmaker, Boryslav Rosenblat.
At that time, he was investigated by the NABU, and he took revenge with lawsuits. The lawsuit was filed after the expiration of the statute of limitations — Rosenblat exceeded the term for applications at least four times, but his appeal was accepted, which indicates a political character.
But Giuliani kept quoting this court decision, though it was never a rule of law. Once that decision was rendered, we appealed and in the summer of 2019, Sytnyk and I won the appeal and the decision was completely overturned.
The appeal issued a new ruling, which states that all of Rosenblat’s claims are unfounded. Also, Rosenblat was ordered to pay me Hr 2,400 ($100 at the time) in court fees.
But Giuliani has never apologized for spreading lies and even undermining my political career in Ukraine.
Now the District Court of Kyiv, which has become a factory of fake justice, is the main anti-advertisement of Ukraine in the eyes of the world. The reputation of Ukraine can be fixed, but not by PR campaigns or “investment nannies,” but rather by building a system of truly independent courts. And the first to go must be the District Court of Kyiv.
If Zelensky doesn’t start draining this swamp, he may suffer himself. After all, there are no guarantees that the same corrupt court after the change of power will not go against him, once again confirming its status of a “political prostitute.”
Sergii Leshchenko is a Kyiv Post columnist, investigative journalist, and former member of the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament.