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Infamous Ukrainian judge's brother released on bail after bribery charge

by Oleg Sukhov December 15, 2021 7:08 PM 3 min read
Judge Pavlo Vovk, head of the Kyiv Administrative District Court (L) and his brother Yuriy Zontov. (Courtesy)
This audio is created with AI assistance

Yuriy Zontov, the brother of Ukraine’s most notorious judge, has been released from detention on Hr 7.6 million ($280,000) bail, the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said on Dec. 15.

Zontov is a former employee of the Foreign Intelligence Service. His brother is Pavlo Vovk, widely seen as the exemplar of Ukraine’s judicial corruption and impunity. Zontov was arrested in April and charged with taking a $100,000 bribe as an intermediary for Vovk. Both denied wrongdoing.

Vovk heads the Kyiv District Administrative Court, seen by civil society as the dirtiest court in Ukraine. He has been charged with corruption and obstruction of justice but prosecutors and judges have effectively destroyed these cases.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau completed the Zontov investigation in November and is preparing to send it to trial. NABU detectives investigating the case searched a Kyiv apartment in April, seizing bundles of cash, antiques and documents allegedly belonging to Vovk.

The detectives confiscated around $5 million, including $3.7 million, 840,000 euros, 20,000 pounds, Hr 230,000, and 100 Israeli shekels.

Vovk's influence

Separately, Vovk may be gearing up to cancel the results of a contest to choose the country’s next top anti-corruption prosecutor, according to Vitaly Shabunin, head of the board at the Anti-Corruption Action Center NGO.

The prosecutor is chosen by a panel made up of foreign experts and people delegated by the Ukrainian government. Since the foreign experts vetoed the President’s Office’s favored candidate in June, the pro-government panelists disrupted numerous meetings by failing to attend.

The Anti-Corruption Action Center believes that Zelensky's deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov, another bribery suspect, has been blocking selection panel meetings because the President's Office does not want an independent prosecutor to be chosen. Tatarov did not respond to requests for comment.

“Without the approval of (President Volodymyr) Zelensky and (his chief of staff Andriy) Yermak, the Kyiv District Administrative Court would not dare cancel the selection of the chief anti-corruption prosecutor,” Shabunin wrote on Facebook.

“Even the (potential liquidation) of the Kyiv District Administrative Court by an ‘angry’ president after the cancellation of the selection process will not deceive anyone. Everyone will understand who’s the scapegoat and who gave the final approval.”

Neither the President's Office nor Vovk responded to requests for comment. Previously Zelensky denied interfering in the selection of the anti-corruption prosecutor.

NABU chief Artem Sytnyk said on Dec. 9 that he also believes that Vovk’s court may cancel the selection results.

Oleksandr Kareyev, a candidate who has been vetoed by the selection panel, has already filed a complaint against the commission to Vovk's Kyiv District Administrative Court. The court accepted the lawsuit for consideration.

Vovk saga

Vovk was charged by the NABU twice – in 2019 with obstruction of justice and in 2020 with corruption.

The Vovk cases have also been effectively destroyed by law enforcement.

Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, a Zelensky loyalist, has refused to authorize an arrest warrant for Vovk, fired her deputy who authorized the corruption charges against Vovk and rejected motions to search and wiretap the judge. Venediktova denied the accusations of sabotage.

In both the 2019 and 2020 Vovk cases, judges refused to extend the investigation, and prosecutors missed deadlines for sending them to trial. The NABU intended to send them to a court despite the missed deadline but courts have ruled that this is impossible.

Vovk’s alleged crimes are not a well-kept secret. In audio recordings published by NABU, the judge is heard discussing numerous corrupt deals, giving illegal orders and quipping that no one should doubt the court’s “political prostitution.” One of the judges of his court was recorded as saying that he supports “any lawlessness in the judiciary.”

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