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US imposes sanctions on Constitutional Court chief, ex-Yanukovych official

December 9, 2021 10:38 pmby Oleg Sukhov
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Left: Constitutional Court chairman Oleksandr Tupytskyi. Right: Andriy Portnov, once an ally of ousted pro-Kremlin President Viktor Yanukovych. (Courtesy)

The U.S. imposed sanctions on Oleksandr Tupytskyi, chairman of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine, and Andriy Portnov, a former ally of pro-Kremlin Ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, on Dec. 9.

Both were accused of engaging in corrupt practices including bribery, illicit influence over reforms and the judiciary, and misappropriation of assets. 

Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, wrote on Facebook that his organisation had been campaigning for the U.S. to sanction corrupt Ukrainian officials.

He argued that the sanctions on Tupytskyi and Portnov were a warning from the U.S. to the President’s Office not to sabotage further reforms, including the selection of the chief anti-corruption prosecutor. Otherwise, sanctions may be imposed on other officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky’s deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov, said Shabunin.

Tatarov has been accused of trying to stop the appointment of the chief anti-corruption prosecutor using the Kyiv District Administrative Court headed by notorious judge Pavlo Vovk, who has been charged with corruption and obstruction of justice.

The President’s Office and Tatarov did not respond to requests for comment. 

Tupytskyi sanctions

The U.S. Department of State said it had imposed sanctions on Tupytskyi and his wife Olga for “involvement in significant corruption,” specifically “the acceptance of a monetary bribe while serving in the Ukrainian judiciary.”

The Constitutional Court chair and his wife will now be denied entry to the U.S.

Tupytskyi, who did not respond to a request for comment, previously denied all accusations of wrongdoing.

In 2020, prosecutors charged him with unlawfully influencing and bribing a witness to induce false testimony.

The charges against Tupytskyi are part of a criminal case into the unlawful seizure of businessman Vladyslav Dreger’s Zuivsky Energy and Mechanical Plant in the city of Zugres, Donetsk Oblast, in 2006-2010. 

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty’s investigative program Schemes has published audio recordings implicating Tupytskyi in alleged corruption involving this case. In the tapes, he also tries to dissuade Dreger from testifying against another controversial judge, Viktor Tatkov.

In July the Prosecutor General’s Office charged Tupytskyi with illegal interference in the allocation of budget money.

In yet another scandal, Tupytskyi acquired land in Russian-annexed Crimea in 2018 and did not show it in his asset declaration, according to the Schemes. The State Investigation Bureau is currently looking into it.

Meanwhile, the news site Censor.net reported in January that Tupytskyi was vacationing in Dubai at a luxury villa whose rent is worth $10,700 per day. Tupytskyi denied this, saying he was vacationing in a hotel near the villa, and that the vacation cost him $8,600.

Schemes also uncovered repeated manipulation in the distribution of court cases at the Constitutional Court, which could potentially constitute a crime.

Tupytskyi has faced harsh public criticism since 2020, when the Constitutional Court issued a ruling that effectively destroyed Ukraine’s asset declaration system for state officials and dealt other blows to anti-corruption reforms. Like several other judges, he voted for the asset declaration decision despite having a conflict of interest, according to the National Agency for Preventing Corruption.

Zelensky issued a decree to fire Tupytskyi in March. In July the Supreme Court ruled that the dismissal was unlawful, and Zelensky appealed the decision with the court’s grand chamber.

Portnov sanctions

The U.S. Department of the Treasury imposed sanctions against Portnov and his charity fund as part of the 2012 Magnitsky Act, which aims to punish those involved in human rights violations or significant corruption worldwide. 

It is not yet clear what restrictions Portnov will face. Sanctions under Magnitsky Act might imply imposing fines, freezing assets, and barring parties from operating in the U.S.

Portnov was accused of using his influence to buy access and decisions in Ukraine’s courts and undermine reform efforts. As of 2019, Portnov allegedly took steps to control the Ukrainian judiciary: influence legislation, place loyal officials in senior judiciary positions, and buy court decisions. 

In mid-2019, Portnov allegedly colluded with a high-ranking Ukrainian government official to shape the country’s higher legal institutions to their advantage and influence Ukraine’s Constitutional Court. Additionally, Portnov has allegedly been involved in an attempt to influence the Ukrainian Prosecutor General.

Portnov was previously sanctioned by the European Union and Canada in 2014.

In 2015, a European Union court canceled the sanctions against Portnov based on Ukraine’s failure to prosecute him. 

In 2010-2014, Portnov was deputy chief of staff for Yanukovych responsible for law enforcement and the judiciary.

He fled Ukraine in 2014 and returned on the eve of Zelensky’s inauguration in May 2019. 

Vovk used to be an aide to Portnov before he joined the judiciary. Zelensky’s former chief of staff Andriy Bohdan also used to be an aide to Portnov, and has called Portnov his friend.

Anti-corruption activists have accused Portnov of maintaining his influence on the judiciary even after Yanukovych’s overthrow.   

According to a Sept. 8 investigation by the Slidstvo.info journalistic project, Portnov, Vovk and Bohdan organized the dismissal of a Constitutional Court head in 2019.

Portnov and 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. Vovk, Portnov, Bohdan and Riaboshapka did not respond to requests for comment.

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.

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