Iryna Venediktova: It’s time to address corruption, not just talk about fighting it
Dec. 9 was International Anti-Corruption Day, but this is a daily duel for the Ukrainian law enforcement system.
The creation of a system of specially authorized entities in the field of countering corruption was not only the dictates of time but also part of international obligations undertaken by Ukraine.
Therefore, six years ago, the state launched the process of building key institutions — the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, whose primary objective is to counter large-scale corruption in the highest echelons of power.
Can we now assert that the anti-corruption system has the form and the efficiency that society expects from it? Of course not.
But over the past eight months, the overall effectiveness of the fight against corruption of all law enforcement agencies is characterized by a number of positive trends.
In particular, there has been an increase of more than 10% in the number of exposed corruption offenses (7,748 against 7,031 last year) and a 50% increase in persons who were notified of suspicion (2,374 against 1606 in 2019).
The number of criminal proceedings with indictments filed to the court increased by almost 40% (1,764 against 1,291).
The amount of the established losses sustained by the state increased by more than eight times, i. e. almost Hr 278 million (against Hr 34 million last year), and the reimbursed ones — by 40%.
For the purpose of ensuring reimbursement of losses, the amount in claims lodged increased by 17 times, i. e. almost 237 million hryvnias (against Hr 14 million), seized property — by 90%, i. e. almost Hr 63 million (against Hr 33 million last year).
The number of persons convicted of corruption also increased by almost 10%, i. e. 408 persons (against 376 last year).
In this fight, we pay particular attention to the self-cleaning of the system of law enforcement agencies, inasmuch as only honest law enforcement officers are able to efficiently counter corruption offenses. In the last eight months alone, 923 law enforcement officers were prosecuted, which is in excess of 43% more than during the same period last year. More officers were exposed: 437 police officers, 88 border guards, 63 customs officers, 54 employees of the penal service.
We, as a matter of principle, do not turn the blind eye to the crimes that prosecutors commit. Thus, during the eight months of my tenure, 21 prosecutors were brought to responsibility, most of them — for committing criminal corruption offenses. For comparison — in 2019, 15 prosecutors were revealed for the entire year.
But society expects that “all high-profile corrupt officials” must bear responsibility and that stolen money must be returned to the treasury.
I fully share the attitude of citizens to this issue, therefore both the NABU and the SAPO must try to earn trust so that the society has a feeling that those are successful institutions.
There is a perception that there is no political will for this. This is not true. I declare under full liability that we have such a will.
Strong evidence needed
The SAPO and NABU must collect conclusive evidence for the court that can meet the “beyond reasonable doubt” standard and form the basis of a conviction. Certain procedural actions, such as the institution of criminal proceedings, serving a notification of suspicion of having committed a criminal offense, even referral of a case to court, will only be a PR campaign without ensuring the collection of a conclusive evidence base.
Public attention is especially focused on high-profile cases, which undoubtedly for me are also markers of the assessment of the work of law enforcement agencies.
For example, the Rotterdam+ case, where the former leader of the SAPO, together with the NABU, conducted an investigation for more than 3.5 years, having first notified of suspicion four officials of the National Energy and Utilities Regulatory Commission and two officials of DTEK Energy LLC, and then closed this case.
The court reopened the case, but the investigation has only two days and a whole heap of unresolved issues, including nine conflicting examinations on the existence of damages and the need to identify specific victims, without which there would be no corpus delicti.
This is not an easy task for the investigation and for the new leadership of the SAPO, who will soon appear, but I will demand from them to successfully resolve it.
Recently, I also reviewed other relevant criminal proceedings, in particular those related to PrivatBank. The investigation in them has been under way for almost four years and, while there is still a sufficient period of pre-trial investigation, I consider it important to strengthen the team of prosecutors in them.
As for the change in the team of prosecutors in four criminal proceedings on the activities of the Public Union “Football Federation of Ukraine,” in which one of the people’s deputies of Ukraine of the VIII convocation was involved, who since March 2015 had served as director and president of this union, the situation is quite simple.
At the end of May, the prosecutor general personally, in accordance with the procedure determined by Articles 37, 110 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ukraine and paragraph 5 of Article 8, paragraph 5 of Article 8–1 of the Law of Ukraine “On Public Prosecution Service,” appointed a team of prosecutors from among the prosecutors of the SAPO and the deputy prosecutor general in order to resolve the issue of eliminating a potential conflict of interest in the implementation of procedural guidance in these processes.
This is due to the fact that the then-head of the SAPO was directly related to the said Public Union: he had served as vice president of this union since June 2017.
In the nearest future, the cases of the beneficial owner of VAB Bank and the embezzlement of the funds of the Finance and Credit bank will also be considered. The investigation of these cases should be significantly intensified because the losses caused by the crimes are very large-scale.
I would like to note that the Prosecutor General’s Office has repeatedly applied to the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office with a request to provide additional information to determine the possibility of sending a request for extradition to a foreign state. Also, on the initiative of the prosecutor general, a meeting was held with the heads of NABU and SAPO about the existing procedural violations and inconsistencies in this regard with the regulations of international law, which may jeopardize the final result in the form of legal criminal prosecution of the suspect.
After NABU eliminates procedural violations in the materials of the request for extradition, the Prosecutor General’s Office will send them in the manner prescribed by the current national and international legislation to the competent authorities of a foreign state for the detention of a person and his further extradition to Ukraine.
Finance and Credit bank
In the proceedings on the embezzlement of the funds of the Finance and Credit bank in the amount of more than Hr 2.5 billion, on the basis of the decision of the Pechersky District Court of Kyiv, the prosecutors of the Prosecutor General’s Office have transferred the management of seized corporate rights, funds and 26 real estate objects belonging to the ultimate beneficial owner of the bank to the Asset Recovery and Management Agency.
Among the transferred assets: health centers, hotels, residential and commercial premises located in the central parts of Kyiv, Kharkiv, Poltava and Kryvyi Rih with a total area of more than 22,000 square meters. In the event of a court decision on their confiscation is adopted, the assets and interest accumulated from the corresponding amount will be transferred to the state budget.
The investigation established that the offshore company, associated with the ultimate beneficial owner of the bank, opened lines of credit in foreign banks in the period 2007–2014. Subsequently, the Ukrainian bank and foreign banks entered into pledge agreements in the amount of over $113 million. By these agreements, the Ukrainian bank guaranteed the offshore company with its own funds placed on correspondent accounts with foreign creditor banks.
In 2015, due to the non-fulfillment of obligations by an offshore company, under loan agreements, foreign banks collected from the accounts of the Ukrainian bank about $113 million, which at that time was equivalent to Hr 2.5 billion. Such actions affected the liquidity of the bank, which, in the end, affected its solvency and contributed to the start of the liquidation procedure for the financial institution.
Eight persons were notified of suspicion in the criminal proceedings: the ultimate beneficial owner, the chairman of the bank board and the management of the financial institution. The process of identifying and transferring the assets of other persons involved in a criminal offence to the Asset Recovery and Management Agency (ARMA) is under way.
On Dec. 7, at a meeting chaired by the prosecutor general, the most relevant criminal proceedings were heard, which are being investigated by the detectives of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), in particular, the proceedings over the fact of providing an improper advantage for ensuring the issuance of an inaccurate written opinion of a forensic expert in the case regarding appropriation of Hr 81 million of the National Guard of Ukraine, in which the actions of the current high-ranking official of the Office of the President of Ukraine are being examined.
On Dec. 1, the group of prosecutors was changed in this case, which was regarded by NABU as an attempt to prevent detectives from carrying out the planned investigative and procedural actions. I would like to note that such a procedure does not in any way affect the conduct of investigative search actions within the framework of the pre-trial investigation in the criminal proceedings by a law enforcement body.
The group of prosecutors was changed in accordance with the requirements of the criminal procedural law, due to extreme complexity, in order to ensure a prompt, complete, impartial and effective investigation.
New head of SAPO
An appointment of a new head is now the most important thing for the successful work of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, so we have started a transparent and fair competition. For these purposes, the internationally recognized anti-corruption leaders, as well as the Ukrainian lawyers have become members of the Commission for the selection of candidates, including the former European Court of Human Rights judge Nona Tsotsoria, the former GRECO Chairman and the Chairman of the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption in the Republic of Slovenia Drago Kos, the former U.S. attorney, partner at Baker and McKenzie Thomas Firestone, and the Deputy Chairman of the Board of the Centre of Political and Legal Reforms Roman Kuybida.
I’m sure that in the nearest future the new head of SAPO will be appointed, who will properly respond to all the challenges this institution is facing at the moment.
A complex approach has to be ensured to eliminate the manifestations of corruption. Thus, the Prosecutor General’s Office is drafting a specific package of legislative amendments to raise the efficiency of court proceedings in cases related to corruption offenses. There are systematic elaborations of amendments to the Criminal Procedural Code of Ukraine.
The most important thing for our state is to establish the real rule of law, which implies both the observance of strictly determined legal provisions and the understanding of the whole legal system, taking into consideration the work of its institutions and mechanisms.