Prosecutor general fires deputy who spearheaded case against Judge Vovk
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova fired her deputy who spearheaded the high-profile corruption case against Pavlo Vovk, the head of the Kyiv Administrative District Court and one of Ukraine’s most notoriously controversial judges, on Sept. 24.
The deputy, Andriy Lyubovych, confirmed that he was fired the same day. The Prosecutor General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.
The Kyiv Administrative District Court has gained a reputation of being one of the most corrupt legal structures in the country among the Ukrainian civil society.
Vovk denies the accusations of wrongdoing.
The Vovk case involves some of Ukraine’s most controversial and politically influential judges who are accused of obstructing justice, organized crime, and bribery, wrongdoings they deny. The country’s whole law enforcement system has faced accusations of sabotaging the case due to Vovk’s alleged political connections.
Charges against Vovk
The Anti-Corruption Action Center argued that Lyubovych’s dismissal was directly linked to his decision to approve charges against Vovk in July.
“Zelensky is entirely happy with Vovk’s mafia,” the watchdog said. “Zelensky’s prosecutor fired Lyubovych… Now tell us fairy tales about Zelensky fighting corruption and influence peddling within courts.”
Zelensky and his office have argued that they cannot comment on the Vovk case because that would constitute interference in the judiciary. However, this has not prevented Zelensky from lambasting Oleksandr Yurchenko, a lawmaker from his party, in a different corruption case.
In July, Lyubovych authorized the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine’s request to charge Vovk and other judges of his court with organized crime, usurpation of power, bribery and unlawful interference with government officials.
Two sources at NABU and the Prosecutor General’s Office told the Kyiv Post that Lyubovich was facing pressure from Venediktova for authorizing the charges. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press.
Lyubovich was also stripped of oversight over cases into murders of protesters during the 2013-2014 EuroMaidan Revolution and over the State Investigation Bureau, according to the sources. He was also deprived of the authority to register criminal cases and was kicked out of the Vovk investigation group, the sources said.
Prosecutors in the Vovk case were threatened with dismissal if they investigated Vovk’s court, one of the sources said.
Venediktova was also dragging her feet for weeks on requesting to suspend Vovk and the other judges, prompting criticism from civil society.
When she finally applied for their suspension under public pressure, the High Council of Justice, the judiciary’s highest governing body, on Sept. 1 unanimously refused to suspend them.
Members of the High Council of Justice were implicated in the NABU recordings on the Vovk case. They did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.
Specifically, Vovk mentioned the involvement of Andrii Ovsiienko, head of the High Council of Justice, and council members Oleh Prudyvus, Pavlo Grechkivsky, Viktor Hryshchuk and Mykola Khudyk in his alleged bargains with the council, according to the NABU recordings.
The Prosecutor General’s Office and the NABU pressed their first charges against Vovk and other judges of his court in August 2019. The judges were then charged with obstructing the work of the High Qualification Commission of Judges, issuing unlawful rulings and unlawfully interfering in the work of other judges.
Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky District Court then helped the judges by rejecting a motion to extend the investigation and ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office to either close the case or send it to trial within five days. The prosecutors did not send it to trial, the case stalled indefinitely and was resurrected by the NABU and Lyubovych only in July 2020.
While firing deputies who have shown results in fighting corruption, Venediktova has appointed controversial ones accused of corruption and other wrongdoings.
In July she appointed Roman Hovda as her first deputy. He worked at the prosecution unit that supervised the police during the EuroMaidan Revolution and was accused of persecuting EuroMaidan protesters. Hovda denied the accusations in a response to the Kyiv Post.
In 2015 Hovda was the chief prosecutor of Odesa Oblast and clashed with the region’s then governor Mikheil Saakashvili, who accused him of banditry and racketeering. Hovda denies the accusations.
Hovda also signed the fraud charges against ex-Deputy Prosecutor General Vitaly Kasko in 2016 in what anti-corruption activists deemed to be a political vendetta by then Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.
He allegedly came in handy for several tainted prosecutor generals: Hovda was both a deputy of Shokin and the chief prosecutor of Kyiv under Yuriy Lutsenko.
On Sept. 9, Venediktova also appointed as one of her deputies Maksym Yakubovsky, who has direct ties to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s close ally Viktor Medvedchuk. Yakubovsky did not respond to a request for comment.
According to several videos posted on YouTube and articles published on Medvedchuk’s Ukrainian Choice’s group, Yakubovsky took part in conferences organized by the group in 2013. He was presented as an expert at Pravova Derzhava (Rule of Law), a legal think tank linked to Medvedchuk.
Pravova Derzhava counts among its members Mikhail Pogrebinsky, a political analyst tied to Medvedchuk, and Stepan Havrysh, an ex-member of Medvedchuk’s Social Democratic Party of Ukraine.
Yakubovsky used to be a lawyer for Medvedchuk, according to the Slidstvo.info investigative show.
His profile on the National Association of Lawyers’ site lists the same telephone number as that of the Ukrainian Choice, while his address is the same as that of Pravova Derzhava and the Ukrainian Choice.
According to the Ukrainian Choice’s website, the group supported the rigged March 16, 2014 referendum on Russia’s annexation of Crimea. The group has also published articles in support of Kremlin-backed militants in Donbas.