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Brian Bonner: Bandits of Ukraine, keep stealing with impunity

20 Sep 2015 3:07 PM | Myroslaw Smorodsky (Administrator)

Brian Bonner: Bandits of Ukraine, keep stealing with impunity

September 20, 2015 Kyiv Post

Brian Bonner has served as the chief editor of the Kyiv Post since 2008.

Bandits of Ukraine, keep stealing with impunity. Nobody in authority is going to stop you – especially if you’re rich, powerful or able to pay hefty bribes to the right person.

That’s my conclusion after listening to panel discussions at the 12th annual Yalta European Strategy from Sept. 10-12, taking place for the second year in Kyiv since Crimea’s Yalta remains under Russian occupation.

I have been in Ukraine for a long time. But I can still appreciate the sad irony of a conference run by a billionaire oligarch, Victor Pinchuk, with another billionaire oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov’s DTEK, as a special partner, organizing a round-table talk called: “Rule of Law, De-Oligarchization, Fighting Corruption: Any News?”

Let me answer the question: No. There is no news. There is no de-oligarchization campaign and there is no fight against corruption under way – at least not one from people in the institutions that should be waging it: judges, prosecutors and police.

Ukraine has 18,000 prosecutors and they are all so worthless or corrupt or both that they cannot make a single big criminal case stick in a nation that is swimming in corruption.
How bad is the situation?

It is so bad that Davit Sakvarelidze, a new deputy prosecutor general, is hiring hundreds of new prosecutors to replace the useless ones in power.

It is so bad that there is nobody to investigate the prosecutors, especially the long-running and unanswered accusations that the nation’s former prosecutor generals, including Oleh Makhnitsky and Vitaly Yarema, continued the practice of soliciting bribes to open and close criminal cases.

It is so bad that Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, has no idea when or if his agency will be running because only now are lawmakers and prosecutors getting around to appointing a commission to appoint an anti-corruption prosecutor. Let me cut to the chase about why the foot-dragging: Politicians and prosecutors have no intention of appointing truly independent and effective persons to prosecutorial posts, because it would surrender their control of the institution.

To say this situation is ridiculous is to state the obvious: All 18,000 of the nation’s prosecutors should be anti-corruption prosecutors.

The longer this goes on, the more the National Anti-Corruption Bureau will look like mere window dressing to create the harmful illusion that something is happening in the corruption fight.

Speaking of cosmetic, let’s look at the new police force – more than 3,000 new uniformed patrol officers in four cities, an innovation led by the photogenic and articulate Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze-Glucksmann. I agree it’s an improvement. But the nation has 150,000 law enforcement personnel. What are they doing? Nothing in the way of investigating white-collar or organized crime, which should be the nation’s priority.

Yuriy Lutsenko, ex-interior minister and current lawmaker with the president’s dominant faction, told the Kyiv Post that Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is blocking the hiring of more new police officers and investigators, charges denied on Sept. 13 by a ministry spokesperson.

And the courts, well, nothing has changed there – the same old corrupt judges, the same opaque procedures, the same lack of jury trials.

Of course, the two people most deserving of blame are President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Poroshenko deserves blame for not firing Prosecutor General Victor Shokin and, as one of his bloc’s lawmakers Sergii Leshchenko said at the YES conference, for taking an evolutionary approach to reform rather than a revolutionary one. “The evolutionary approach isn’t working,” Leshchenko said at YES as the government becomes more unpopular.

But there is a war on, so Ukrainians are still reluctant to be hard on their commander-in-chief. But Poroshenko will have a lot of answer for when the stalled and impotent anti-corruption drive becomes the public’s focus again instead of the war. Unfortunately, three of the most honest and toughest anti-corruption lawmakers – Leshchenko, Svitlana Zalishchuk and Mustafa Nayem – are in the presidential faction, and I fear they will pull their punches when it comes to criticism of Poroshenko.
If Leshchenko is right, half the parliament still consists of corrupt lawmakers or representatives of oligarchs.

If the anti-corruption drive doesn’t get going soon, Poroshenko will be on his way to a one-term presidency, ala ex-President Viktor (“Bandits to Jail”) Yushchenko.

Meanwhile, Yatsenyuk is going the way of one of his predecessors and a former political ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, in the blame game. He said he was only able to name three people to the Cabinet of Ministers and has only 80 members of the 423-seat parliament from his People’s Front party.

Yatsenyuk’s hawkish and popular stance against Russia’s war got most of the media attention from from his speech and interview with moderator Stephen Sackur at the YES conference. But the prime minister essentially blamed everyone else for the nation’s stillborn corruption fight.

“I am not responsible for the prosecutors office...nor for judiciary. I am doing my jobs: to fix the economy, to be back on track in terms of reforms, to provide energy efficiency reform, to provide financial resources for the Ukrainian military, to improve corporate governance for state-owned enterprises, ” Yatsenyuk said. “I would be happy to be both prime minister, chief justice, general prosecutor and chief of the anti-corruption bureau ... Everyone is to make its own job.”

I’ve got news for Yatsenyuk – all his reforms in other areas will be for naught if there is no rule of law or functioning, independent judicial system.

Yatsenyuk also blamed attacks on him for pressure he has put on oligarchs who own televison stations, although Sackur said people think the opposite is true – that he continues to safeguard the interests of the oligarchic and bureaucratic system.

This is reminiscent of the the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko dysfunctional rule, but also a reflection of Ukraine’s confusing division of powers between the president and prime minister, a recipe for conflict, as American economist Roger Myerson has noted.

“You name me one big, big fish in this particular sea who has been held to account, put through the courts and brought to justice for criminal corruption,” Sackur challenged. Yatsenyuk could not.
Not only that, Leshchenko told the YES conference that Ukraine is not helping Switzerland’s authorities with requested information regarding corruption allegations they are investigating against a main ally of Yatsenyuk, lawmaker Mykola Martynenko. Martynenko denies the charges.

While the discussion at YES was useful, the nation’s top law enforcement officials – general prosecutor, interior minister and Security Service of Ukraine chief – did not speak at the conference. Perhaps they had nothing to say. The best advice came from Anders Aslund, the Swedish author on Ukrainian politics, who told the YES conference that the top leadership of all law enforcement bodies should be removed and replaced by people who will make the institutions truly independent.

The longer the delay, the more the stealing will take place in an atmosphere of impunity and the less likely that Ukraine will recover any of its stolen billions or bring to justice those who robbed its people.

Bandits of Ukraine, keep stealing with impunity. Nobody in authority is going to stop you – especially if you’re rich, powerful or able to pay hefty bribes to the right person.

That’s my conclusion after listening to panel discussions at the 12th annual Yalta European Strategy from Sept. 10-12, taking place for the second year in Kyiv since Crimea’s Yalta remains under Russian occupation.

I have been in Ukraine for a long time. But I can still appreciate the sad irony of a conference run by a billionaire oligarch, Victor Pinchuk, with another billionaire oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov’s DTEK, as a special partner, organizing a round-table talk called: “Rule of Law, De-Oligarchization, Fighting Corruption: Any News?”

Let me answer the question: No. There is no news. There is no de-oligarchization campaign and there is no fight against corruption under way – at least not one from people in the institutions that should be waging it: judges, prosecutors and police.

Ukraine has 18,000 prosecutors and they are all so worthless or corrupt or both that they cannot make a single big criminal case stick in a nation that is swimming in corruption.
How bad is the situation?

It is so bad that Davit Sakvarelidze, a new deputy prosecutor general, is hiring hundreds of new prosecutors to replace the useless ones in power.

It is so bad that there is nobody to investigate the prosecutors, especially the long-running and unanswered accusations that the nation’s former prosecutor generals, including Oleh Makhnitsky and Vitaly Yarema, continued the practice of soliciting bribes to open and close criminal cases.

It is so bad that Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, has no idea when or if his agency will be running because only now are lawmakers and prosecutors getting around to appointing a commission to appoint an anti-corruption prosecutor. Let me cut to the chase about why the foot-dragging: Politicians and prosecutors have no intention of appointing truly independent and effective persons to prosecutorial posts, because it would surrender their control of the institution.

To say this situation is ridiculous is to state the obvious: All 18,000 of the nation’s prosecutors should be anti-corruption prosecutors.

The longer this goes on, the more the National Anti-Corruption Bureau will look like mere window dressing to create the harmful illusion that something is happening in the corruption fight.

Speaking of cosmetic, let’s look at the new police force – more than 3,000 new uniformed patrol officers in four cities, an innovation led by the photogenic and articulate Deputy Interior Minister Eka Zguladze-Glucksmann. I agree it’s an improvement. But the nation has 150,000 law enforcement personnel. What are they doing? Nothing in the way of investigating white-collar or organized crime, which should be the nation’s priority.

Yuriy Lutsenko, ex-interior minister and current lawmaker with the president’s dominant faction, told the Kyiv Post that Interior Minister Arsen Avakov is blocking the hiring of more new police officers and investigators, charges denied on Sept. 13 by a ministry spokesperson.

And the courts, well, nothing has changed there – the same old corrupt judges, the same opaque procedures, the same lack of jury trials.

Of course, the two people most deserving of blame are President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

Poroshenko deserves blame for not firing Prosecutor General Victor Shokin and, as one of his bloc’s lawmakers Sergii Leshchenko said at the YES conference, for taking an evolutionary approach to reform rather than a revolutionary one. “The evolutionary approach isn’t working,” Leshchenko said at YES as the government becomes more unpopular.

But there is a war on, so Ukrainians are still reluctant to be hard on their commander-in-chief. But Poroshenko will have a lot of answer for when the stalled and impotent anti-corruption drive becomes the public’s focus again instead of the war. Unfortunately, three of the most honest and toughest anti-corruption lawmakers – Leshchenko, Svitlana Zalishchuk and Mustafa Nayem – are in the presidential faction, and I fear they will pull their punches when it comes to criticism of Poroshenko.
If Leshchenko is right, half the parliament still consists of corrupt lawmakers or representatives of oligarchs.

If the anti-corruption drive doesn’t get going soon, Poroshenko will be on his way to a one-term presidency, ala ex-President Viktor (“Bandits to Jail”) Yushchenko.

Meanwhile, Yatsenyuk is going the way of one of his predecessors and a former political ally, Yulia Tymoshenko, in the blame game. He said he was only able to name three people to the Cabinet of Ministers and has only 80 members of the 423-seat parliament from his People’s Front party.

Yatsenyuk’s hawkish and popular stance against Russia’s war got most of the media attention from from his speech and interview with moderator Stephen Sackur at the YES conference. But the prime minister essentially blamed everyone else for the nation’s stillborn corruption fight.

“I am not responsible for the prosecutors office...nor for judiciary. I am doing my jobs: to fix the economy, to be back on track in terms of reforms, to provide energy efficiency reform, to provide financial resources for the Ukrainian military, to improve corporate governance for state-owned enterprises, ” Yatsenyuk said. “I would be happy to be both prime minister, chief justice, general prosecutor and chief of the anti-corruption bureau ... Everyone is to make its own job.”

I’ve got news for Yatsenyuk – all his reforms in other areas will be for naught if there is no rule of law or functioning, independent judicial system.

Yatsenyuk also blamed attacks on him for pressure he has put on oligarchs who own televison stations, although Sackur said people think the opposite is true – that he continues to safeguard the interests of the oligarchic and bureaucratic system.

This is reminiscent of the the Yushchenko-Tymoshenko dysfunctional rule, but also a reflection of Ukraine’s confusing division of powers between the president and prime minister, a recipe for conflict, as American economist Roger Myerson has noted.

“You name me one big, big fish in this particular sea who has been held to account, put through the courts and brought to justice for criminal corruption,” Sackur challenged. Yatsenyuk could not.
Not only that, Leshchenko told the YES conference that Ukraine is not helping Switzerland’s authorities with requested information regarding corruption allegations they are investigating against a main ally of Yatsenyuk, lawmaker Mykola Martynenko. Martynenko denies the charges.

While the discussion at YES was useful, the nation’s top law enforcement officials – general prosecutor, interior minister and Security Service of Ukraine chief – did not speak at the conference. Perhaps they had nothing to say. The best advice came from Anders Aslund, the Swedish author on Ukrainian politics, who told the YES conference that the top leadership of all law enforcement bodies should be removed and replaced by people who will make the institutions truly independent.

The longer the delay, the more the stealing will take place in an atmosphere of impunity and the less likely that Ukraine will recover any of its stolen billions or bring to justice those who robbed its people.

 

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