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The U.S. Department of State on Dec. 9 sanctioned Pavlo Vovk, head of Ukraine's Kyiv District Administrative Court, to commemorate International Anti-Corruption Day, imposing visa restrictions on the controversial judge and potentially blocking his assets.
"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. "As part of this action, two immediate family members are also designated."
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 remains the head of his court, which resumed work under his leadership in April after suspending operations in February due to the Russian invasion.
The corruption case against Vovk was sent to the High Anti-Corruption Court in June.
In April 2021, Zelensky submitted an “urgent” parliamentary bill to liquidate Vovk's court. However, the bill has been blocked for more than one and a half years by parliament, where the president's party holds an absolute majority.
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 under multiple governments.
Vovk has been paid for court rulings and organized fake lawsuits and fake selection procedures for state jobs, according to the content of the tapes. The tapes show that 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. He has also interfered with the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the State Investigation Bureau, and the National Agency for Corruption Prevention.
Obstruction of justice
The current charges were brought against Vovk in 2020.
Since then, Vovk has ignored summonses from the NABU.
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 court ruling was used as the grounds for closing a different obstruction of justice case against Vovk.
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.