On January 3rd former Georgian President Michael Saakashvili’s plea for asylum in Ukraine was turned down, removing a key obstacle to deport him to Georgia. If deported, he will likely be show-trialled without a fair chance of defence.
Since Saakashvili broke his alliance with President Poroshenko, the Ukrainian authorities have been working overtime to get rid of their new political opponent. The Soviet-style harassment campaign started with stripping him of his Ukrainian citizenship (a decision judged illegal by most independent experts), denying him entry into Ukraine, and arbitrary arrests of his aides. Ukrainian Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko tried to bring about his own political show trial of Saakashvili, which he had to abandon on November 13th, formally due to weak evidence, but in effect due to pressure from the EU and the US.
While Saakashvili is no saintly figure, the campaign against him shows the worrying extent to which the judiciary and security apparatus are once again being dragged into the dirty tricks of politics. Lutsenko himself was once a victim of a show trial under the Yanukovych regime. Now he enacts them on behalf of Poroshenko.
While the Saakashvili saga drags on, the ruling parties are busy dismantling the most effective anti-corruption agency Ukraine has ever seen. On November 6thBlock Poroshenko and People’s Front introduced a bill calling for the dismissal of Artem Sytnyk as head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and tightening political control over the bureau.
Sytnyk’s ‘crime’ was to bring indictments for corruption and graft against high-ranking oligarchs, presidential advisers, and the son of a former prime minister. Despite international observers assessing NABU’s investigations as watertight, the Ukrainian judiciary turned down all the cases. International pressure has so far prevented the Rada from holding a final vote on the law, but it is still out there and may resurface once the West is distracted with other things.
Moreover, the bill is just the tip of the iceberg of the Ukrainian establishment’s war on anti-corruption efforts. NABU’s investigators have been arrested, its offices have been searched by the SBU, and administrative decrees have been used to block it from accessing information or, conversely, swamping it with truckloads of useless “information” to be processed – while the suspects got away.
The courts, too, are in the process of being compromised. Twenty five of the 113 judges recently appointed to Ukraine’s new supreme court do not meet integrity criteria: they possess unjustified assets and/or have engaged in cases recognized as political persecution or violated human rights as confirmed by the European Court of Human Rights.
Vacancies for the new State Bureau of Investigations (SBI), set to take over investigating high level corruption from the General Prosecutor’s Office (PGO) were filled without proper transparency, and the new leaders come from the ranks of the old state prosecutor’s office. Equally, Poroshenko’s proposal for an anti-corruption court dismissed the advice of the Venice commission and would not provide the necessary independence from the political and judicial hierarchy for such an important court.
E-declarations of income and possessions of state employees have so far not resulted in any criminal investigations, primarily because the National Agency for Corruption Prevention (NACP) that should monitor the E-declarations is under the control of the oligarchs.
Finally, the fall of 2017 witnessed increased attacks on anti-corruption activists, NGOs, and investigative journalists. From politically motivated arrests, to fabricated evidence, organised protests, harassment, and open intimidation, the list of dubious activities used to undermine investigative work is long.
With these actions, Poroshenko is quickly reversing the progress in rule of law and separation of powers made in Ukraine since the revolution of dignity. If this continues, Ukraine will again be a quasi-authoritarian kleptocracy in which few holders of power use the state apparatus to advance their private interests.
* The publication is not an editorial. It reflects solely the point of view and argumentation of the author. The publication is presented in the presentation. Start in the previous issue. The original is available at: http://ecfr.eu
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