President Volodymyr Zelensky on Dec. 31 appointed Oleksiy Sukhachov as the head of the State Investigation Bureau, one of the main law enforcement agencies, for five years.
The decision is highly controversial.
Sukhachov, a loyalist of the Zelensky administration, was appointed by the president as the acting chief of the bureau in September 2020. He had been seen by anti-corruption activists as the government’s favored candidate in the contest for months.
The seat of the bureau’s head has been vacant since 2019, and the contest for a new chief had been stalled for years. However, in recent weeks the selection process was unexpectedly sped up, and most of it took place during the winter holidays lull, when media, society and foreign organizations paid little attention.
The selection panel for choosing the bureau's chief is entirely controlled by the President’s Office, and Ukraine’s foreign partners have refused to send their representatives to the panel to avoid legitimizing a fake contest, anti-corruption activists say.
The President’s Office, the State Investigation Bureau and Sukhachov himself did not respond to requests for comment.
The State Investigation Bureau, an agency similar to the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations, investigates non-corruption crimes committed by top officials.
The selection panel for choosing the bureau’s head is effectively controlled by Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov, a suspect in a bribery case, Oleksandr Lemenov, head of anti-corruption watchdog StateWatch, argued on Facebook.
Tatarov did not respond to a request for comment. He has been widely believed to be the administration’s point man for law enforcement agencies.
Four of the six panel members, including Alina Biryukova, as well as Sukhachov and Tatarov, are members of the editorial board of the Criminal Law Newsletter, a legal publication. Lemenov argued this is a conflict of interest.
Lidiya Moskvych, one of the panel members, responded that she was not acquainted with Tatarov.
The chief editor of the newsletter is Mykola Pohoretsky, who used to work at Tatarov’s law firm Credence.
Biryukova, a member of a vetting panel at the Kyiv bar, pushed for giving Tatarov a lawyer’s license in Kyiv in 2015, according to Lemenov. She did not respond to a request for comment.
However, the Kyiv bar refused to give a license to Tatarov due to his controversial background, and he got one in Dnipro, Lemenov said.
He also said that Biryukova went to Ukraine’s Russian-annexed Crimea as a tourist in 2019 and used to be an aide to ex-Justice Minister Olena Lukash, an ally of pro-Kremlin ex-President Viktor Yanukovych.
The selection process has been controversial.
Only seven candidates were allowed to take part in the current contest, compared to about 60 candidates in the previous contest in 2017.
Sukhachov and two of his subordinates from the bureau entered the final stage. Lemenov argued that the subordinates were “fake” candidates who were allowed to participate to create the illusion of a competitive selection process.
One of them, Oleksandr Kozlenko, said during an interview that he was “no better” than Sukhachov.
In December the selection panel also changed the deadline for informing candidates about interviews from three days to one day in advance. Lemenov called this a “falsification.”
Sukhachov worked at the State Security Service in 2000-2017 and at the Prosecutor General's Office in 2017-2019.
He was fired from the prosecutor’s office in 2019 because he failed to pass legal knowledge tests as part of a vetting procedure.
In 2020 the Kyiv District Administrative Court, headed by Ukraine's most infamous judge Pavlo Vovk, canceled Sukhachov’s dismissal from the prosecutor’s office. The court and Vovk, who has been charged in corruption and obstruction of justice cases, are considered by civil society to be the epitome of lawlessness.
Sukhachov also has problems with his asset declaration. Some of the assets that he de facto owns are registered to his father-in-law and mother-in-law, according to Lemenov.
Specifically, Sukhachov lives in a 100-square-meter apartment in Kyiv formally owned by his mother-in-law. He said during an interview as part of the contest that the mother-in-law bought the apartment because she wanted to live in Kyiv, but later he moved in after she dropped such plans.
Sukhachov also received a 42-square-meter apartment in Kyiv from the government free of charge in 2017 but has never lived there. During the interview, he argued that this was lawful and that he had not lived there because it was being repaired.