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Ukraine’s biggest judicial corruption case sent to trial

June 20, 2022 9:11 pmby Oleg Sukhov
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Pavlo Vovk, head of the Kyiv Administrative District Court.(adm.ki.court.gov.ua)

A corruption case against Pavlo Vovk, Ukraine's most notorious judge, has been sent to the High Anti-Corruption Court, the anti-corruption prosecutor's office said on June 20. 

Vovk, head of the Kyiv District Administrative Court, has become a symbol of injustice, lawlessness, and impunity in Ukraine. Cases against him have been blocked and sabotaged by prosecutors, investigators, and courts for several years. 

Vovk and other judges of his court have been charged with usurpation of power, obstruction of justice, organized crime, and abuse of authority. Despite the charges, Vovk remains the head of his court, which resumed work under his leadership in April after suspending operations in February due to the Russian invasion.

Vovk tapes 

In audio recordings published by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) in 2019-2021, Vovk is heard discussing numerous corrupt deals, giving illegal orders, and joking 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.”

“We are unique. We are the only court that has survived all of them for five years. Unliquidated, unreformed, unassessed,” Vovk quipped, according to the NABU tapes, in a reference to his efforts to block his court from being reformed, reviewed or liquidated.

Vovk has been paid for court rulings and organized fake lawsuits and fake selection procedures for state jobs, alleges the content of the tapes. He has used corrupt schemes to influence and pressure the judiciary’s two main bodies – the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission, the tapes show. He has also interfered with the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the State Investigation Bureau, and the National Agency for Corruption Prevention.

Sabotage of Vovk case

The current charges were brought against Vovk in 2020. 

Since then, Vovk has ignored summonses from the NABU. Prosecutor General Venediktova, a loyalist of President Volodymyr Zelensky, repeatedly refused to authorize an arrest warrant for Vovk. She also refused to let the NABU search Vovk’s office or wiretap him and fired her deputy who authorized corruption charges against the judge.

Venediktova denied the accusations of sabotage. 

In 2021 Andriy Bitsyuk, a judge at the High Anti-Corruption Court, refused to extend the corruption investigation against Vovk. He ordered prosecutors to send it to trial within five days or close the investigation. 

This created the risk that the case could be closed, since a similar 2019 court ruling was used in 2021 as the grounds for closing a different obstruction of justice case against Vovk. The closure of the 2019 Vovk case will be considered by the Supreme Court on June 28. 

Zelensky's role

Zelensky has been accused of letting Vovk escape justice. The President's Office did not respond to a request for comment.

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

In 2019, Vovk and Zelensky’s ex-chief of staff Andriy Bohdan organized the dismissal of a Constitutional Court head, according to audiotapes published by Slidstvo.info investigative journalism project. Vovk also allegedly worked with Ruslan Riaboshapka, Zelensky’s former prosecutor general, to organize the dismissal of a Council of Judges chief in 2019, according to the tapes. Bohdan and Riaboshapka did not respond to requests for comment.

In April 2021, Zelensky submitted an “urgent” parliamentary bill to liquidate Vovk's court. However, the bill has been blocked by parliament, where the president's party holds an absolute majority.

Oleg Sukhov
Author: Oleg Sukhov

Oleg Sukhov is a political reporter at the Kyiv Independent. He is a former editor and reporter at the Moscow Times. He has a master's degree in history from the Moscow State University. He moved to Ukraine in 2014 due to the crackdown on independent media in Russia and covered war, corruption, reforms and law enforcement for the Kyiv Post.