There could be another setback in the long-awaited visa-free regime with Europe as 48 deputies of Ukraine have filed a claim to the Constitutional Court. The MPs have asked the court to cancel clauses requiring government officials to declare all unfinished buildings, assets, cash, credits, loans and expenses. The changes to several clauses, which, among other things, mean stiffer penalties for discrepancies in tax declarations, are a prerequisite for visa-free travel to the EU for citizens of Ukraine. Journalists working under the Schemes program – a joint project of Radio Liberty and channel UA:Pershy – report on the MPs who refuse to declare their assets and the judges who will rule on the new electronic declaration law.
48 deputies, most of whom are from the Opposition Bloc, have demanded that the Constitutional Court rule the declaration of some assets unconstitutional. In fact, e-declarations will enable the newly created National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption to verify the authenticity of declarations in official state registries.
Why are some MPs so worried about electronic declarations? It seems they are concerned there will be outright violation of constitutional principles of rule of law, lawfulness of action, individual responsibility, privacy and confidential information.
The MPs are also worried that declarations by government officials will be published openly on one of the state sites.
In addition, the deputies criticize the fact that they are obliged to declare unfinished buildings and the clause on sentencing officials to two years imprisonment for providing false information.
Most of these deputies belonged to the former Party of Regions, the party of ex-President Yanukovych, who fled to Russia immediately after Euromaidan. Today, these MPs are members of another faction called the Opposition Bloc.
Nataliya Korolevska is one of them. The day when our journalists decided to talk to her, she came to work at the Verkhovna Rada in a Range Rover. According to her tax declaration, Ms. Korolevska does not own a car.
She also found it difficult to explain how she was connected with this vehicle. After a long period of hesitation and several excuses, Ms. Korolevska finally said:
“The car belongs to the person driving. I asked for a ride. I think a girl can be chauffeured around…”
There were no security guards escorting her, only her beloved husband, Yuriy Solod, who is also a deputy of the Verkhovna Rada. By coincidence, there is no mention of a Range Rover or any other car on his tax declaration.
It is probable that such a SUV will appear shortly on the family’s next declaration form.
We also asked Ms. Korolevska what she had against e-declarations. She couldn’t give us a straight answer:
“The Bloc’s lawyers and several colleagues worked on it together. They say there are some technical errors that need to be corrected or removed. You should ask our legal department.”
What is really behind the claim submitted by these deputies? Do they actually want the rule of law to prevail or are they merely trying to hide their assets and funds from the public eye?
Another example: Last year, Opposition Bloc MP and another plaintiff Dmytro Dobkin earned 10 million and 66 thousand UAH. 66,000 were declared as wages, and the rest – 10 million – were registered as “gifts, winnings and prizes”.
Yet another plaintiff, MP Nestor Shufrych also declared 10 million UAH under “gifts, winnings and prizes”. We asked him where the money came from.
“It’s an unfinished house we started building for our son, but he decided to live in an apartment in Kyiv, so he gave me this house. I’m going to finish it soon and live there.”
We approached another signatory, MP Anton Kisse. The day we decided to talk to him, he arrived at the Verkhovna Rada in a Range Rover. He assured us it belonged to him.
But, Kisse’s declaration mentions a Porsche Cayenne. The deputy explained why he thinks e-declarations should be launched as of next year:
“People need to be prepared and should understand that everything you have today or any move you make should be declared. Society should know everything.”
Serhiy Larin, member of the Opposition Bloc, is also very concerned about e-declarations.
We photographed him in a car, which he says belongs to his wife, who is engaged in some kind of business matters:
“What kind of business? Various… rentals, or something like that…”
Former Deputy Prime Minister under Yanukovych, Oleksandr Vilkul is also a signatory. His tax declaration is ambiguous. He arrived at work in a Mercedes, and assured us that the car belonged to him. However, there is no record of such a vehicle in his 2015 declaration.
- Bakulin Yevhen
- Balytsky Yevhen
- Bakhteyeva Tetyana
- Bily Oleksandr
- Boyko Yuriy
- Vilkul Oleksandr
- Voropayev Yuriy
- Halchenko Andriy
- Husak Volodymyr
- Dobkin Dmytro
- Dobkin Mykhailo
- Dolshenkov Oleksandr
- Dunayev Serhiy
- Ioffe Yuliy
- Kiseliov Andriy
- Kolesnikov Dmytro
- Korolevska Nataliya
- Larin Serhiy
- Mastovytsky Artur
- Matviyenko Serhiy
- Myrny Ivan
- Miroshnychenko Yuriy
- Moroko Yuriy
- Murayev Yevheniy
- Nechayev Oleksandr
- Nimchenko Vasyl
- Novynsky Vadym
- Pavlenko Yuriy
- Pavlov Kostyantyn
- Papiyev Mykhailo
- Rabinovych Vadym
- Sazhko Serhiy
- Skoryk Mykola
- Solod Yuriy
- Shentsev Dmytro
- Shpenov Dmytro
- Shurma Ihor
- Shufrych Nestor
- Bezbakh Yakiv
- Kisse Anton
- Bondar Viktor
- Barvinenko V.
The deputies have filed their claim to the Constitutional Court. However, there may also be a conflict of interest for the judges of the Constitutional Court because they must also fill in the new e-declaration form.
Do they have anything to worry about?
Oleksandr Kasminin’s family, one of the judges of the Constitutional Court, owns a 1,000 sq.m. plot of land in Poltava situated next to a two-storey unfinished building, both of which (the land and the building) are surrounded by a joint fence.
When the journalists inquired about the unfinished house, the judge responded in writing: “I submitted a correct declaration of property, income, expenses and other financial obligations in 2015”. Not a word about the unfinished house…
If the judge’s family uses this house or finances its construction, he will be required to mention it in the new tax declaration. Anyway, doesn’t it look strange when people put up a common fence and don’t use the property behind it?
Next, we’d like to congratulate Judge Mykhailo Hultay on his 2007 Lexus SUV, purchased for a mere 149,000 UAH! Similar vehicles sell for twice as much!
Activist Oleksandra Drik comments on this situation:
“There may be a conflict of interest for the judges of the Constitutional Court if, for example, it is found that some of them have assets resistered in the name of a family member. This is one of the clauses that the “regionals” want cancelled. Or they have unfinished buildings… and that’s another clause they want to eliminate. If we see that some judges are interested in abrogating these clauses, this constitutes a potential conflict of interest. Moreover, at least six of the judges have been under investigation for two years by the General Prosecutor’s Office, namely those who approved decrees during Yanukovych’s tenure.”
Sofia Kovács, UNDP expert in Ukraine, is closely following events in the Constitutional Court. UNDP helped create the electronic declaration form.
“If the Constitutional Court allows the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption (NAPC) to access all information from other registers, but declares transparency of tax declaration registers unconstitutional, that would actually mean that the NAPC cannot automatically verify information on government officials’ declarations with data in property registers. Second, Ukrainian citizens will not have open access to tax declarations of government officials. This is something we’ve been working on for such a long time! Moreover, this would also mean that the EU requirements for visa liberalization have not been met.”
Ruslan Ryaboshapka is member of the newly created National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, which has been charged with verifying declarations submitted by government officers, deputies and judges. He believes that there is definitely a threat to certain clauses in the e-declaration:
“This is very clearly a negative sign. Not only we, but the public and media should defend this new form of tax declaration. I think the appeal filed by certain deputies is unfounded.”
The judges of the Constitutional Court could not tell us when the appeal would be examined. A decision has yet to be approved.
In general, the deputies who have complained about e-declarations and the judges who will hear the case seem to have a conflict of interest that could potentially influence the final decision.