Saturday

24th Jun 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.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

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.

EU extends sanctions on Russia

German chancellor Angela Merkel said that Russia hadn't done enough to implement the so-called Minsk peace process, a condition for lifting the sanctions.

Interview

EU visa waiver unlikely to import Ukraine crime

Visa-free travel, which began last week, unlikely to prompt a Ukrainian crime wave, an EU police expert has said, but Ukraine itself is seeing increases in lawlessness.

News in Brief

  1. Merkel and Macron hold symbolic joint press conference
  2. Juncker has 'no' clear idea of kind of Brexit UK wants
  3. Belgian PM calls May's proposal on EU citizens 'vague'
  4. UK lacks support of EU countries in UN vote
  5. Spain to command anti-smuggler Mediterranean force
  6. Estonia confirms opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline
  7. Ireland and Denmark outside EU military plan
  8. EU leaders renew vows to uphold Paris climate deal

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement