Ukraine Approves Anti-Corruption Court in Bid to Unblock Foreign Aid
Posted June 7, 2018 4:58 p.m. EDT
MOSCOW — After months of foot-dragging that exasperated its Western backers, Ukraine on Thursday adopted legislation that opens the way for the establishment of an independent anti-corruption court.
The move, long demanded by the International Monetary Fund and Western governments, could help unblock billions of dollars in assistance frozen because of Western dissatisfaction with Ukraine’s failure to deliver on promises to tackle endemic graft and cronyism.
At the same time, however, the Parliament in Kiev, the Ukrainian capital, also voted to dismiss the country’s finance minister, Oleksandr Danylyuk, an outspoken champion of measures to curb corruption in Ukraine’s fiscal and customs service.
The votes by legislators — one signaling a major step forward in Ukraine’s on-again off-again struggle against corruption, the other a serious setback — added to a growing sense of muddle in Kiev. Last week, Ukrainian authorities announced that a dissident Russian journalist had been murdered in the Ukrainian capital, only for the journalist to appear very much alive the next day at a news briefing.
Ukrainian officials say they faked the murder of the journalist, Arkady Babchenko, a former war correspondent highly critical of the Kremlin, in an effort to trace his would-be killers back to Russian intelligence. But they have produced no evidence to support accusations of a Russian role or any explanation why they needed to stage a phony murder.
Public fury over corruption and political machinations galvanized the 2013-14 street protests that toppled President Viktor F. Yanukovych, and has since sapped support, both inside Ukraine and abroad, for his successor, Petro O. Poroshenko.
Daryna Kalenyuk, executive director of the Anticorruption Action Center, a Ukrainian organization that has often criticized Poroshenko for coddling corrupt officials, described Thursday’s legislation on the anti-corruption court as a “big victory.”
But, she added, it only defined the shape of the new court and did not order its immediate establishment. For that to happen, she said, Parliament needs to pass another piece of legislation.
“There are loopholes and we still need another vote, but we have finally unfrozen the process,” Kalenyuk said.
The dismissal of the finance minister, she added, was “a step backward,” but it was the “the bribe paid to members of Parliament to get their vote on a more or less good anti-corruption court.”
Danylyuk, an independent-minded reformer backed by the IMF, was fired on the recommendation of Ukraine’s prime minister, Volodymyr Groysman, who had accused Danylyuk of spreading “distorted information among our international partners.”
This accusation related to a letter Danylyuk wrote to Ukraine’s Western backers that accused Poroshenko of trying to get one of his allies put in charge of tax policy and of blocking candidates put forward by the minister. Danylyuk complained in his letter that “corruption and vested interests are increasing” in the State Fiscal Service, Ukraine’s equivalent of the Internal Revenue Service.
The United States had no immediate response to Thursday’s votes in the Ukrainian Parliament. In response to a request for comment, the U.S. Embassy in Kiev reissued an earlier statement that said the “establishment of a genuinely independent anti-corruption court is the most important, immediate step the government can take to meet the demands the Ukrainian people made” during the 2013-14 protests.
The IMF had no immediate comment on whether the court legislation would free funding for Ukraine. A spokesman for the IMF in Washington, Gerry Rice, said the fund was reviewing the new law to see whether “it ensures the establishment of an independent and trustworthy anti-corruption court that meets the expectations of the Ukrainian people.”
Rice declined to comment on the dismissal of the finance minister but said “our staff had expressed a concern about possible changes in the institutional role of the Finance Ministry” relating to tax collection.