Saturday

19th Aug 2017

Feature

EU reform in Ukraine: prosecuting the prosecutor

  • Maidan and east Ukraine war veterans in civil society are making Poroshenko keep his word (Photo: blu-news.org)

Ukraine’s prosecution service is the “backbone” of a corrupt system holding it back from normality, the EU diplomat tasked with cleaning things up has said.

It’s a problem which grew to monstrous proportions in the past 25 years of post-Soviet rule.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now and get 40% off for an annual subscription. Sale ends soon.

  1. €90 per year. Use discount code EUOBS40%
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

If you already have an account click here to login.

When pro-democracy activists entered the home of Viktor Pshonka, the former regime’s prosecutor general, last February, they found: gold-plated bathroom ware; gem-encrusted clocks; a marble swimming pool; and oil paintings of himself as a Roman Emperor and as Napoleon.

He made money in various ways.

Pshonka’s office, an army of 18,000 bureaucrats, exerted control over whole sectors of Ukraine’s economy, especially the real estate sector.

They extorted people via investigations, dictated court verdicts against their victims, and sold protection to corrupt officials from other Ukrainian institutions.

Pshonka fled to Russia with the former president, Viktor Yanukovych, after the revolution.

But the new prosecution chiefs - first Oleh Mahnitskyi, then Vitaly Yarema, now Viktor Shokin - have presided over a system which still looks more like a crime syndicate than a law enforcement agency.

Ukrainian media have published images of Yarema’s 10,000 square metre estate, the value of which is silly compared to his official salary.

He appointed ex-Yanukovych stooges to big posts and sent letters to Brussels to try to get them off blacklists.

Shokin also caused scandals by trying to quash anti-corruption probes into his clan.

“Corporate raiding is still very frequent. For instance, if a large Ukrainian firm wants to buy a competitor’s assets, they may still often contact their friends in the prosecutor’s office, or in the tax inspectorate, and they get them to initiate a case against their target", Kalman Mizsei, the head of the EU’s rule of law mission in Kiev, Euam Ukraine, told EUobserver.

“There’s still no concept of public service. There’s widespread buying and selling of positions”, he added.

“There’s [also] an open fight between reformers and recidivists … it goes to the point that criminal investigations are being opened against some of the reformers”, he said.

“The prosecution is the backbone of the old system. It’s vital to clean it up, to reduce its power, and to make it respectable”.

Mizsei's task is daunting, to say the least.

His operation, Euam Ukraine, created in July, has 160 people, most of them police and judicial experts from Germany, Romania, Sweden, and the UK.

By contrast, Eulex, the EU rule of law of mission in Kosovo, which has a population 25 times smaller than Ukraine, has 1,500 people.

It also has an executive mandate, which means Eulex can indict corrupt Kosovo officials. But Euam Ukraine can only give advice.

Ugly picture

The Shokin machine is part of a bigger, and equally ugly, picture.

Ukrainian leader Petro Poroshenko has stepped in to get bent prosecutors sacked.

But the president, himself an oligarch who never sold off his business interests, isn’t keen to let go the power to appoint prosecutor generals.

He answers to parliament, but, by some estimates, three-quarters of MPs still have an old-school, Yanukovych-type mentality.

The MPs answer to Ukrainian people. But despite the revolution, decades of Soviet-type rule have left a legacy of what Mizsei called “deep nihilism” in Ukrainian society.

Meanwhile, the EU reform effort comes at time of war.

Russia’s assault is both military and political: Reports of Ukraine corruption are grist to the Kremlin’s propaganda mill.

The worst case scenario is loss of EU, International Monetary Fund, and foreign investor confidence, aggravating Ukraine’s economic crisis.

It’s also loss of faith by the "Maidan" revolution and east Ukraine war veterans, prompting political instability or civil unrest.

Mixed picture

The ugly picture is not uniform, however.

Poroshenko has shown interest in reform and has a majority in parliament to see it through.

Mizsei said Ukraine’s new traffic police has won public trust.

He said its security service, the SBU, has been purged of Russian infiltrators and has distinguished itself by “uncovering and preventing terrorist attacks [by Russia's irregular forces]”.

He said the prosecution service also contains a new, highly-motivated cadre, which is trying to change it from within - not least the new deputy prosecutor general, Davit Sakvarelidze, a Georgian national.

Despite the “nihilism”, the EU diplomat also noted that Ukrainian civil society is making a big difference.

He spoke highly of two NGOs - Reanimation Package of Reforms and the Renaissance Foundation, a branch of the Open Society Foundations, a US-based group - for keeping a “close watch” on Poroshenko’s promises.

“Roman Romanov, from Renaissance, and others, have made an impact by initiating pragmatic projects”, Mizsei told this website.

He said one of Romanov’s initiatives, the creation of pro bono legal aid centres for defendants, is keeping prosecutors in check.

Georgian model

Poroshenko has also appointed Georgia’s former president, Mikheil Saakashvili, as governor of Odessa, a city in south Ukraine.

It’s a red rag to Russian leader Vladimir Putin, who went to war against Saakashvili in 2008.

But the Georgian element in Ukraine is part of the anti-corruption shift.

Mizsei noted that Saakashvili, in his eight years in power in Georgia, “showed that a radical approach to wiping out corruption is possible in the post-Soviet sphere”.

The EU diplomat said, if things go well, Ukraine could, in the next “four or five years” also become “a medium-level rule of law country”.

“But for this, reforms need to intensify”.

Juncker promises Ukraine visa-free travel

Commission president Juncker has said he’ll back EU visa-free travel for Ukrainians by the end of the year, despite the political climate on migration.

News in Brief

  1. Macedonia sacks top prosecutor over wiretap scandal
  2. ECB concerned stronger euro could derail economic recovery
  3. Mixed Irish reactions to post-Brexit border proposal
  4. European Union returns to 2 percent growth
  5. Russian power most feared in Europe
  6. Ireland continues to refuse €13 billion in back taxes from Apple
  7. UK unemployment lowest since 1975
  8. Europe facing 'explosive cocktail' in its backyard, report warns

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceDoes Genetics Explain Why So Few of Us Have an Ideal Cardiovascular Health?
  2. EU2017EEFuture-Themed Digital Painting Competition Welcomes Artists - Deadline 31 Aug
  3. ACCABusinesses Must Grip Ethics and Trust in the Digital Age
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Welcomes European Court of Justice's Decision to Keep Hamas on Terror List
  5. UNICEFReport: Children on the Move From Africa Do Not First Aim to Go to Europe
  6. Centre Maurits CoppietersWe Need Democratic and Transparent Free Trade Agreements Says MEP Jordi Solé
  7. Counter BalanceOut for Summer, Ep. 2: EIB Promoting Development in Egypt - At What Cost?
  8. EU2017EELocal Leaders Push for Local and Regional Targets to Address Climate Change
  9. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceMore Women Than Men Have Died From Heart Disease in Past 30 Years
  10. European Jewish CongressJean-Marie Le Pen Faces Trial for Oven Comments About Jewish Singer
  11. ACCAAnnounces Belt & Road Research at Shanghai Conference
  12. ECPAFood Waste in the Field Can Double Without Crop Protection. #WithOrWithout #Pesticides

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EU2017EEEstonia Allocates €1 Million to Alleviate Migratory Pressure From Libya in Italy
  2. Dialogue PlatformFethullah Gulen's Message on the Anniversary of the Coup Attempt in Turkey
  3. Martens CentreWeeding Out Fake News: An Approach to Social Media Regulation
  4. European Jewish CongressEJC Concerned by Normalisation of Antisemitic Tropes in Hungary
  5. Counter BalanceOut for Summer Ep. 1: How the EIB Sweeps a Development Fiasco Under the Rug
  6. CESICESI to Participate in Sectoral Social Dialogue Committee on Postal Services
  7. ILGA-EuropeMalta Keeps on Rocking: Marriage Equality on Its Way
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEuFoA Director and MEPs Comment on the Recent Conflict Escalation in Nagorno-Karabakh
  9. EU2017EEEstonian Presidency Kicks off Youth Programme With Coding Summer School
  10. EPSUEP Support for Corporate Tax Transparency Principle Unlikely to Pass Reality Check
  11. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Improves the External Investment Plan but Significant Challenges Ahead
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersCloser Energy Co-Operation Keeps Nordic Region on Top in Green Energy