President Volodymyr Zelensky on Dec. 13 signed into law a bill to liquidate the Kyiv District Administrative Court, headed by Ukraine's most scandalous judge Pavlo Vovk.
Earlier on the same day, the bill was approved by parliament.
The move follows a decision by the U.S. Department of State on Dec. 9 to impose sanctions against Vovk. "The Department of State is designating Vovk for soliciting bribes in return for interfering in judicial and other public processes," the department said in a statement.
Vovk 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 remained the head of his court, which resumed work under his leadership in April after suspending operations in February due to the Russian full-scale invasion.
In April 2021, Zelensky submitted the bill to liquidate Vovk's court to parliament and marked it as "urgent." However, the bill had been blocked for more than one and a half years by Zelensky's Servant of the People party until the U.S. sanctioned the judge.
What will happen to Vovk?
The bill envisages creating a different administrative court to replace Vovk's court.
Dejure, a legal think tank, said that a fair and transparent contest should be held for jobs at the new court. Otherwise, another copy of Vovk's Kyiv District Administrative Court will be created, according to the think tank.
Moreover, the liquidation of the court does not mean that Vovk and his alleged accomplices will be fired. They will keep the status of judges even when the court ceases to exist.
Dejure said that they should be fired by the High Council of Justice, the judiciary's highest governing body, and successfully prosecuted and tried for their alleged crimes.
Meanwhile, there are doubts about whether Vovk will be successfully prosecuted and convicted.
Due to his alleged political connections, the judge has escaped justice, and the cases against him have stalled for years.
The current charges were brought against Vovk in 2020.
Since then, Vovk has ignored summonses from investigators and courts. The Prosecutor General's Office has also been reluctant to go after Vovk, refusing to authorize key decisions in the cases against him.
In 2019, a court refused to extend one of the corruption cases involving Vovk, ordering prosecutors to either send it to trial or close it within five days. The prosecutors have not sent it to trial since then, and the case is effectively dead.
In 2021, another court refused to extend a second corruption case against the judge. Despite the obstruction, the case was eventually sent to trial in June 2022.
In November 2022, the High Anti-Corruption Court had to issue an order to have Vovk brought to trial by force, and he appeared in court for the first time.
Charges against Vovk
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 reference to his efforts to block his court from being reformed, reviewed, or liquidated.
According to tapes, Vovk has allegedly been paid for court rulings and organized fake lawsuits and selection procedures for state jobs.
The tapes show that he has allegedly used corrupt schemes to influence and pressure the judiciary’s two main bodies – the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission. He has also interfered with the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the State Investigation Bureau, and the National Agency for Corruption Prevention.
Meanwhile, Vovk's brother was arrested in 2021 and charged with taking a $100,000 bribe as an intermediary for Vovk.