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Ukraine’s first anti-corruption case against top official becomes soap opera

Roman Nasirov’s lawyers appeal to his bad health conditions. Photo:
Ukraine’s first anti-corruption case against top official becomes soap opera
Edited by: Alya Shandra

For the second week in a row Ukraine, observes an anti-corruption soap opera caused by the first-ever detention of a top-official in the country. The head of the National Fiscal Service Roman Nasirov is suspected in causing damage to the state in amount of UAH 2 bn ($ 73.7 mn). The importance of the case goes far beyond Ukraine.

First, because according to investigation the suspect has also British and Hungarian citizenship.

Second and more importantly, because revealing the case might open the door for much more transparent communication between Ukraine and its international partners in questions of money.

However, so far the intervention and pressure of the international community is needed to reveal the case, because the lack of political will among Ukraine’s leaders might negate all the attempts to break the corrupted order in the country.

Nasirov has been arrested over his involvement in the gas case related to Ukraine’s runaway oligarch and ex-MP Oleksandr Onyschenko. According to investigators, the Fiscal Service head allowed Onyschenko’s companies to avoid taxes and necessary fees.

Nasirov is also suspected of interfering in Ukraine’s electronic administration of VAT.

Both investigations can lead to a long prison sentence.

Oleksandr Lemenov, an expert of the anti-corruption group of the NGO Reanimation Package of Reforms, explained the importance of the case to Euromaidan Press:

For the first time since the Revolution of Dignity, proceedings had been opened against a top official with the application of a preventive measure in the form of detention. Usually, they are either not brought to justice, or released on a small bail. Currently, the bail for Nasirov reached UAH 100 mn [$ 3.7 mn], or more than 62,000 living wages of ordinary Ukrainians. But don’t focus only on Nasirov. This case is much broader and covers the crimes of others, such as Ukrainian MP Oleksandr Onyshchenko, who currently escaped justice and ran away to London.”

This case is just a small part of the big picture. The web of corrupt schemes running through the Fiscal Service is sure to involve other top-officials and politicians.

The fact that Nasirov is a member of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc party casts a shadow of suspicion even on President Poroshenko.

The interests of all the politicians who interacted with Roman Nasirov in some way while he was Head of the State Fiscal Service are affected. Even the President of Ukraine is affected, because, as Onyshchenko said, it was Petro Poroshenko who approved the implementation of the schemes,” says Lemenov.

The soap opera at Nasirov’s detention

On Sunday March 5, activists gathered near the court to prevent Nasirov from escaping. Photo: screenshot from
On Sunday March 5, activists gathered near the court to prevent Nasirov from escaping. Photo: screenshot from

All the importance of the case notwithstanding, Nasirov’s detention turned into a show. It started when the investigators were informed that the official might escape from the country, taking all the evidence of the case with him. On March 2, just before the arrest, the suspect allegedly felt ill and was hospitalized. When the investigators came to the hospital to hand the suspicion Nasirov allegedly had a “myocardial infarction” (later the suspect said that it was just a hypertensive crisis).

On Sunday March 5, the ill suspect was moved to the court. Ukrainian society is used to politicians using different tricks to avoid responsibility. The danger that the suspect would run away from the country was high as Nasirov should have been released after 72 hours allotted by the law for detention.

Civil society activists realized that they are the only ones who could prevent Nasirov from avoiding responsibility. On Sunday night they blocked the entrances of the court, keeping Nasirov inside. The tactic worked – Nasirov stayed in the court the whole night; the next morning the hearing against him began.

Eventually, the Kyiv Solomensky District Court chose a preventive measure for the suspended chairman of the State Fiscal Service in the form of arrest for 60 days and set the bail at UAH100 mn ($3.7 mn).

Nasirov declared that he will appeal against the investigator’s actions to the European Court of Human Rights over the his health condition at the time when the notice of suspicion was handed to him – an argument that his lawyers are already actively using. However, it remains unclear whether the illness was genuine or simulated, and Nasirov’s team will need to go through all the national courts first. In any case, we can expect that Nasirov will fight back with claims against the investigation, according to Lemenov.

The positive hero of the story – the National Anti-Corruption Bureau

The politicians tried to dismiss the head of NABU Artem Sytnyk (on the photo). Photo:
The politicians tried to dismiss the head of NABU Artem Sytnyk (on the photo). Photo:

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) involved in the investigation is one of several anti-corruption bodies acting in Ukraine. Experts say that so far the institution is the only one which is left without the control of politicians.

“NABU is now considered to be the only independent law enforcement body in Ukraine. Runing it is one of the aims of the top political leadership of the state. Only due to a miracle was a prejudiced representative of the political elite not appointed to head it. This head can be removed from office only under exceptional circumstances, among them – bad results of annual audits. The politicians [not interested in fighting corruption] place their hopes in the results of this audit when appointing ‘their’ people [for conducting the audit],” Lemenov describes the situation.

So far the resistance of the system is strong and the chances that Nasirov will get away are high.

If Ukrainian society and Western partners won’t pressure President’s Poroshenko’s surrounding, chances are high he will escape. On March 9, the courtroom was abuzz with proposals to reduce the size of the pledge – from UAH 100 mn to UAH 10 mn [$ 372,600],” warns Lemenov.

Nasirov’s British and Hungarian citizenship

One of Roman Nasirov’s appartments in London is in this London house. Photo: RFE/RL
One of Roman Nasirov’s appartments in London is in this London house. Photo: RFE/RLorru

The case of Nasirov concerns not only Ukraine. The Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) informed that the head of Ukraine’s Fiscal Service also has British and Hungarian citizenship, which is illegal by Ukraine’s law. Nasirov himself denied the accusation.

Additionally, the investigators inform that Nasirov is the owner of two apartments in London.

The claim that Nasirov has British passport was one of NABU’s arguments when it demanded to arrest the official, as the passport of another country could help him to escape from Ukraine.

Apart from the passports, NABU is inquiring into whether Nasirov declared his London property and the profits he received from it.

Usually, soap operas have happy endings. A happy end to Ukraine’s war against corruption and, in particular, to the case of Nasirov, is impossible without international attention to the case.

Edited by: Alya Shandra
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