Parliament drags feet on ‘urgent’ bill to eliminate Ukraine’s most notorious court for month

A wanted notice for Judge Pavlo Vovk, a suspect in a graft case, in Kyiv on Dec. 1, 2020. Despite being caught on audiotape admitting to widespread corruption, Vovk remains as entrenched as ever in charge of the Kyiv District Administrative Court.A wanted notice for Judge Pavlo Vovk, a suspect in a graft case, in Kyiv on Dec. 1, 2020. Despite being caught on audiotape admitting to widespread corruption, Vovk remains as entrenched as ever in charge of the Kyiv District Administrative Court.Photo by Volodymyr Petrov

Parliament’s legal policy committee has been dragging its feet for over a month on reviewing a bill that would eliminate the notorious Kyiv District Administrative Court.

President Volodymyr Zelensky, who created the bill, marked it as “urgent” but parliament has not even begun to consider it.

The committee only approved including the bill in the parliament’s agenda on May 19, an entire month after the bill was submitted. Usually, the committee votes to include a bill in the agenda and send it to the floor simultaneously but that has not happened this time, according to DEJURE, a legal think tank.

“The bill is being delayed, and Kostin is encouraging this procrastination,” Halia Chyzhyk, a judicial expert at the Anti-Corruption Action Center, told the Kyiv Post.

This court’s judges, especially their leader, Pavlo Vovk, are seen by civil society as the epitome of judicial corruption and impunity in Ukraine.

In audio recordings published by NABU, Vovk discusses numerous corrupt deals, gives illegal orders and quips that no one should doubt the court’s “political prostitution.” One of the court’s judges was recorded as saying that he supports “any lawlessness in the judiciary.”

The legal policy committee is headed by Andriy Kostin from Zelensky’s Servant of the People party. Kostin, other members of the committee and the President’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

There will be a separate committee vote to approve or reject the bill and send it to the floor. It is not clear when the committee will vote on this.

Activists noted that the bill is not a silver bullet. Even if parliament eliminates the controversial court, Vovk and his fellow judges may just move to a new one, civic watchdogs DEJURE and Anti-Corruption Action Center said in April.

Fedir Venislavsky, Zelensky’s representative at the Constitutional Court, said in April that judges of the Kyiv District Administrative Court will be able to apply for jobs at another court. The bill does not create any procedure for choosing the new court’s judges.

Critics said this defies the entire point of the bill. Judges of Vovk’s court may be transferred to the new court without any competition or integrity checks, judicial watchdog DEJURE said.

Zelensky’s silence

Until recently, Zelensky has been reluctant to comment about Vovk or move against him.

Several law enforcement sources told the Kyiv Post that Zelensky’s former chief of staff Andriy Bohdan is mentioned in the Vovk tapes. One of the sources said that Vovk talked about vacationing with Bohdan in June 2019.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak to the press.

Online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda reported in March, citing its sources, that in the summer of 2019, Vovk met with Bohdan and Ruslan Riaboshapka, who would later become prosecutor general.

A law enforcement source told Ukrainska Pravda that Vovk had met Zelensky in 2019 and persuaded the president that he would work as part of his team.

The President’s Office, Bohdan and Riaboshapka did not respond to requests for comment on the issue.

Vovk case

In July 2020 Vovk and other judges of his court were charged with organized crime, abuse of power, bribery and unlawful interference with government officials.

For months, Vovk ignored the NABU’s summonses. When the NABU tried to use court warrants to bring Vovk to bail hearings by force, the judge always hid from the bureau.

The bureau has for months asked Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, a Zelensky loyalist, to authorize an arrest warrant for Vovk but she refused.

Responding to accusations of sabotage, Venediktova on March 17 said that she cannot take Vovk to court by force. She added that she doubted the effectiveness of the investigation and said that she did not see any “trial prospects” in the case.

Andriy Bitsyuk, a judge at the High Anti-Corruption Court, on March 17 refused to extend the corruption investigation against Vovk. According to the Criminal Procedure Code, prosecutors had to either close the investigation or send it to trial within five days.

However, the case was not sent to trial within five days and is likely to be closed.

In April the NABU arrested Vovk’s brother Yury Zontov, an employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service. He was charged with receiving a $100,000 bribe as an intermediary for Vovk.

(C)KYIV POST 2021

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