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Parliament committee slams anti-corruption bureau's chief over failure to explain leak scandal

by Oleg Sukhov June 21, 2024 1:03 AM 7 min read
Semen Kryvonos, chairman of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, reports at a press conference on the results of work for the second half of 2023 in Kyiv, Ukraine on Feb. 21, 2024. (Viktor Kovalchuk/Global Images Ukraine via Getty Images)
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Members of the Ukrainian parliament's anti-corruption committee on June 20 lambasted Semen Kryvonos, head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), for refusing to report at the committee on a scandal over alleged leaks from the NABU.

The NABU has been in turmoil since journalists found out in May that its employees had allegedly been leaking information to suspects in a high-profile corruption investigation, and warning them about upcoming searches. A month later, the investigation of the leak is ongoing, and the bureau hasn’t given any public explanation, or fired anyone.

Gizo Uglava, the NABU's first deputy chief, is being investigated in the leak case and has been suspended at his own request. Uglava told the Kyiv Independent that he is not authorized to comment on the details of the leak case but added that the accusations against him were "a total lie and nonsense."

Kryvonos has also been lambasted by anti-corruption activists due to what they see as his failure to react to the leak scandal quickly and adequately and to fire Uglava.

On June 20, another scandal broke out after online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda reported that Kryvonos had allegedly stopped the NABU from conducting a planned search of the house of Oleksiy Chernyshov, chairman of oil and gas company Naftogaz and a former minister, as part of a corruption investigation.

The NABU did not respond to requests for comment.

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Kryvonos' stance

Kryvonos initially agreed to attend the June 20 meeting of the anti-corruption committee but eventually did not show up.

He did not warn the committee about his decision, and the committee members found out about it from his Facebook account.

"The proposal to talk publicly about the pre-trial investigation (into the leaks) is premature," Kryvonos said. "I believe that we should focus our efforts not on the political process but on effective investigative actions in order to achieve a quick and objective result in the investigation."

He added that it's also unacceptable to talk about the results of the leak investigation without the participation of Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Oleksandr Klymenko.

"I will publicly inform the public, journalists and other interested parties about the results of both the criminal investigation and the three internal probes that we are simultaneously conducting," Kryvonos added.

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Contempt of parliament

Anastasia Radina, chairwoman of the anti-corruption committee, lashed out at the absent Kryvonos at the June 20 committee meeting.

"The NABU believes that it doesn't have to inform the committee about the leak investigation," she said. "This is the first head of an anti-corruption agency who refuses to attend a meeting of the anti-corruption committee and report on its work and investigations."

She added that "the NABU believes it's not necessary to be held accountable to us, journalists and the public about the problems that the NABU faces."

Radina also criticized Kryvonos' statement that he cannot discuss the issue while the investigation is ongoing. She said that the committee did not intend to discuss investigative secrets but it had a right to hold the NABU accountable and to ensure that the NABU is doing its best to resolve the issue.

The criminal investigation into the leaks might take up to seven years, Radina said.

In contrast with the criminal investigation, the NABU has had enough time to complete internal probes and fire those responsible but failed to do so, Radina said.

"When they say that I must wait five or seven years for people who may be leaking information to be fired, and I – as a citizen of Ukraine – must pay the salaries of government agencies that leak information, I'm not ok with that," she said.

She also argued that the damage to the NABU's reputation caused by the leak scandal undermines Ukraine's efforts to rally international support amid Russia's aggression.

"Personally I'm the most perplexed by the fact that some people think they can damage our country's reputation when we are asking the whole world to help us repel the Russian invasion," Radina said.

Viktoria Siumar, a committee member from ex-President Petro Poroshenko's European Solidarity party, said that "there are a lot of questions (for the NABU) but there is no answer."

She said that this undermines trust in the NABU and that it should have reacted to the leak scandal immediately.

"As far as the lack of respect for parliament is concerned, I'm worried about that because stability in the country depends on this institution," Siumar said. "(The NABU) just ignored parliament and our committee. There is no accountability."

Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, a committee member from the Holos party, said that, instead of ignoring the committee, Kryvonos could have asked the committee to postpone the meeting or propose a closed session instead of a public one.

"This is not the reaction that Ukrainian society deserves – especially in the conditions of the full-scale war," he added.

Roman Ivanisov, another committee member, defended the NABU, saying it is one of the most effective law enforcement institutions. Ivanisov represents the Revival of Ukraine, a group that includes MPs who were previously members of a pro-Russian bloc and President Volodymyr Zelensky's Servant of the People party.

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Chernyshov scandal

Committee members also mentioned another scandal that has broken out around the NABU over a corruption case that involved Chernyshov, who was the minister for the development of communities and territories from 2020 through 2022.

Chernyshov has been under investigation over his associates allegedly receiving apartments as bribes from Serhiy Kopystyra, the owner of real estate developer KSM Group, Ukrainska Pravda reported on June 20. In exchange, Chernyshov allegedly allocated a land plot to KSM Group for the construction of a housing complex in Kyiv.

Despite a search warrant issued by a court, NABU detectives decided not to hold searches at Chernyshov's house near Kyiv due to a request by Kryvonos, law enforcement sources told Ukrainska Pravda.

Ukrainska Pravda also reported, citing its sources, that the President's Office had planned to reinstate Chernyshov as a minister but the decision was canceled after the NABU leaked information on the Chernyshov case.

Chernyshov has visited the NABU several times and met Kryvonos, Ukrainska Pravda reported. At least one of the meetings was conducted in apparent secrecy, with Chernyshov switching cars before entering the NABU.

Chernyshov has confirmed meeting Kryvonos but claimed that they talked about "increasing the transparency" of the state-owned oil and gas company Naftogaz, chaired by Chernyshov.

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Leak saga

The alleged leaks that sparked the current NABU scandal were discovered after investigators seized a phone belonging to businessman Yury Holyk, who was under investigation in a high-profile corruption case. The phone contained copies of messages obtained by Holyk from an intermediary who allegedly talked with NABU employees from 2021 through 2023.

The leaked correspondence, which has been published by investigative journalists, involves several people linked to the President’s Office. The office did not respond to requests for comment.

At the center of the accusations is Uglava, who has been the agency’s second-in-command for more than nine years.

Law enforcement sources told the Kyiv Independent that some of the messages in the leaked correspondence could have been written by either Uglava or someone who got information from Uglava and was passing it on.

According to the Kyiv Independent's sources, the style of the messages does not match Uglava's but only Uglava could have access to the whole amount of information in the correspondence.

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