Western diplomats urged Ukraine to complete key anti-corruption and judicial reforms in a quick, fair and transparent way at the “Seven Years of Anti-Corruption Reforms” conference in Kyiv on Dec. 9.
The event was co-hosted by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the National Agency for Corruption Prevention (NACP), the European Union Anti-Corruption Initiative (EUACI) and The United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
The event's recording is available to watch in English here.
Matti Maasikas, the EU ambassador to Ukraine, said at the conference that Ukraine’s judicial reforms “should be concluded swiftly and with full thoroughness.”
The reform plan envisages firing and rehiring members of Ukraine’s two main judicial bodies based on ethics and integrity criteria. It has been delayed for years but started moving forward this month.
Maasikas also said that “a reform of the Constitutional Court of Ukraine should be taken on.” However, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, which has a majority in parliament, has rejected the idea of holding a transparent competition for Constitutional Court jobs.
Maasikas said that the selection of the anti-corruption prosecutor and a new head of the NABU should be carried out quickly and transparently.
The office of the chief anti-corruption prosecutor has been vacant since August 2020, when the previous holder of the job, Nazar Kholodnytsky, resigned. The selection process of his successor has been delayed for months.
The NABU head is expected to be replaced when incumbent Artem Sytnyk’s term ends in February 2022.
“Anti-corruption institutions started delivering tangible results, and vested interests are fighting back,” Maasikas said. “....Sustaining the independence and effectiveness of anti-corruption institutions - the NABU, NACP, anti-corruption prosecutor’s office (SAPO) and the Asset Recovery and Management Agency (ARMA), should be a clear priority.”
Maasikas insisted on “guarantees for de-politicized and merit-based selection processes for leadership positions.”
“It will be crucial that the selection process for the new head of SAPO will be concluded without any further delays,” Maasikas said. “The process has been dragging on for far too long.”
Kristina Kvien, the U.S. charge d'affaires in Ukraine, welcomed the shift in the selection process of the new anti-corruption prosecutor.
“The U.S. urges continued progress to ensure that this selection process is without further interference and with full transparency. We would love to see it completed before 2022,” she said.
NABU chief Sytnyk told the conference that there are “constant attempts to postpone or disrupt” the selection of the chief anti-corruption prosecutor.
“They have exhausted every opportunity to delay this selection process, and unacceptable and non-transparent things are going on,” he added. “I don’t rule out that there will be a decision of the Kyiv District Administrative Court (to 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 the Kyiv District Administrative Court, headed by notorious judge Pavlo Vovk. The court accepted the lawsuit for consideration.
The Anti-Corruption Action Center believes that the President’s Office has been disrupting selection panel meetings because it does not want an independent prosecutor to be chosen.
President Volodymyr Zelensky has denied pressuring the selection process.
Sytnyk also complained that, although the NABU acquired independent wiretapping powers in 2019, the bureau still can’t exercise them as the law has not yet been implemented. The NABU must instead use the wiretapping equipment of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) and the National Police, which results in information leaks to suspects.
Meanwhile, the National Agency for Corruption Prevention’s chief Oleksandr Novikov told the Kyiv Independent at the conference that the agency is checking whether Zelensky's deputy chief of staff Oleh Tatarov has a conflict of interest.
Tatarov was charged in 2020 with bribing a forensic expert. Zelensky has refused to fire or suspend him despite public outrage. A petition for Tatarov’s dismissal collected 25,000 signatures in June.
Back in 2020, the President’s Office claimed that Tatarov’s functions related to law enforcement had been suspended. However, Zelensky said on Nov. 26 that Tatarov still oversees law enforcement. Asked whether there is a conflict of interest, Zelensky said “probably not.”
Although many speakers praised Ukraine’s supposed progress in enacting anti-corruption reforms over the past seven years, the overall statistics for top officials announced by Sytnyk are meager.
Six ministers and deputy ministers, 11 state agency heads, 20 members of parliament, 67 judges and 78 state firm executives have been charged in NABU cases so far, he said. Out of these, four judges, two regional government officials and two prosecutors have been convicted, Sytnyk added.
The conference featured many Western officials, including Claude Wild, Switzerland’s ambassador to Ukraine; Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod; Allan Pagh Kristensen, head of the EU Anti-Corruption Initiative, and Eka Tkeshelashvili, the chief of party of Support to Anti-Corruption Champion Institutions in Ukraine (SACCI).
The event was also attended by Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova; Maksym Hryshchuk, acting chief anti-corruption prosecutor; Anastasia Radina, head of parliament’s anti-corruption committee; Dmytro Zhovarovych, acting head of the ARMA; and Olena Tanasevych, head of the High Anti-Corruption Court.
Activists and experts from the Anti-Corruption Action Center, anti-corruption watchdog AutoMaidan and legal think-tank DEJURE, as well as investigative journalist Denys Bihus, also spoke at the conference.