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Court extends house arrest of Fiscal Chief in Ukraine’s first major anti-corruption case

Roman Nasirov. Photo:
Court extends house arrest of Fiscal Chief in Ukraine’s first major anti-corruption case

The detention of Roman Nasirov, Head of the Fiscal Service of Ukraine, in March 2017 was promising. For the first time after the Euromaidan Revolution, a high-profile state official was detained on allegations of corruption in Ukraine. The case gave hope that the vicious cycle of corruption will be broken and the real fight against it will finally start. Particularly, this was a chance for the new anti-corruption bodies, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP), to demonstrate their efficiency and independence from politicians. Of course, the investigation faced the resistance of the current Ukrainian political system. Let’s take a look at the progress in the case.

The latest news

On June 26, the Solomianskyi district court of Kyiv extended the obligation for Roman Nasirov to wear an electronic bracelet and the obligation of the pledge of UAH 100 mn ($3.7 mn) for another two months, until September 2.

Also, the court did not grant the petition of Nasirov’s lawyers to change one of the prosecutors of the SAP. The prosecutors are confident that the request of the defense was called to delay the court progress.

If the court would not have prolonged the preventive measures for Nasirov, he would have been able to walk freely and potentially escape the country.

The facts

Nasirov is suspected in causing damage to the state in the amount of UAH 2bn ($ 73.7mn). He is a suspect in the so-called gas case of the runaway oligarch and ex-MP Oleksandr Onyshchenko. The oligarch is suspected in organizing embezzlement schemes during the extraction and sale of natural gas in terms of the cooperation agreements with the state-owned company Ukrgazvydobuvannia.

As reported by law enforcement, the losses of the state in this case amounted to approximately UAH 3 bn ($110.6 mn).

The episode with Nasirov concerns the period of November-December 2015, when the State Fiscal Service allowed Onyshchenko’s companies Has and Nadra Geocenter payment installments of UAH 1.3 bn ($47.9 mn) debt on rent payments.

Preventive measures for Nasirov

The Kyiv Solomianskyi District Court chose a preventive measure for the suspended chairman of the State Fiscal Service in the form of home arrest for up to 60 days and set the bail at UAH 100 mn. The bail was paid by his wife and her father.

On April 27 the court prolonged the arrest for another 60 days.

Nasirov considers the case against himself as “completely unfounded.”

Manipulations around Nasirov’s health conditions

Nasirov during the first court hearing. Photo: Radio Svoboda
Nasirov during the first court hearing. Photo: Radio Svoboda

The detention of Nasirov turned into a show right from the start. From the investigators’ first visit to him until now, the physical conditions of the suspect became the key argument for his defense. Just before the arrest, Nasirov was hospitalized. Allegedly, he had a “myocardial infarction,” or heart attack (later he said that it was just a hypertensive crisis).

This diagnosis increased the chances for Nasirov to evade responsibility, as under Ukrainian law a suspect could be retained in custody for only 72 hours. The alleged diagnosis he was given bought him time and increased the chances that he would flee the country if the 72 hours ran out and preventive measures were not applied. In a hospital bed, Nasirov was taken to the court where the preventive measure should have been chosen. As the 72 hours were running out, some 500 activists gathered around the court to block the entrance, thus eliminating the chance that the ex-Fiscal Chief would escape. He did not, and that night preventive measures were applied, thanks to which the trial is still ongoing.

Later, an expert commission conducted by the Ministry of Health did not confirm the diagnosis of a heart attack, which doctors at the VIP Feofaniya clinic gave to Nasirov.

They alleged that the heart attack happened right at the moment when NABU detectives arrived at the clinic on 2 March 2017 to hand a suspicion notice to the oligarch and that because of it, their patient couldn’t be arrested.

According to NABU, the commission found that the doctors of Feofaniya unreasonably exaggerated the severity of the health of the head the Fiscal Service and there were no objective reasons for the diagnosis they gave. This already strongly suggested that the medics at the Feofaniya clinic, which specializes in treating state officials, were acting in collusion with Nasirov to help him evade punishment.

The plot thickened as the State Management of Affairs of Ukraine (DUS) attempted to defend the diagnosis made at its subordinate Feofaniya clinic by confirming it with German doctors. On 11 April, DUS victoriously stated that the University clinic in Freiburg agreed it was indeed a heart attack – only to have the clinic deny on the next day that they had ever been asked about Nasirov, stating that the information they received from DUS was anonymized, and therefore they don’t know whether it was indeed related to the Ukrainian official.

In the end of May, Nasirov requested that NABU returns him his passport so he could travel for treatment to the US, citing an allegedly great number of serious diseases, which he claimed were identified by a forensic medical examination. Journalists also received a copy of an invitation from the National Institute of Diabetes in the United States where Nasirov should have been treated at the expense of the US budget.

NABU refused to fulfill the requirement of the suspect.

The British passport

Apart from the arrest until June 26, preventive measures for Nasirov foresaw that he would hand in his passports – the British one, and two Ukrainian ones – one is internal, and the other for international travels.

It’s possible that Nasirov had a third passport. Prosecutor Roman Simkiv clarified that NABU detectives had previously received information about the alleged Hungarian citizenship of Nasirov. According to him, NABU appealed to the competent authorities of Hungary to verify this information, but until now it has not received any response. So far, the prosecutor’s office does not use this information in court.

The British passport of Nasirov became opened up additional international implications in the case and caused arguments between the investigators and the defense. Eventually, the British side had to interfere.

If Nasirov really has British citizenship, his case can be also investigated by the British side.

A forged diploma of the University of East London and apartments Nasirov owns in London, uncovered by journalists of TSN, gives reasons to suspect Nasirov of international fraud and money laundering. Apart from that, it could bring on additional charges upon the government official: according to a statement by Transparency International, the fact that Nasirov concealed his dual citizenship while receiving access to state secrets warrants criminal responsibility.

The Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP) demanded the court exact an additional UAH 100 mn ($3.8 mn) pledge from Nasirov because he hadn’t handed in his British passport.  The evidence they provided consisted of an answer from International Legal Aid from the Home Office of Great Britain, which confirmed that Nasirov has British citizenship and possesses its passport since 2013. Also, the answer contained the record of the interrogation of the authorized employee of the passport service of Her Majesty Michel Hain confirming that Nasirov became a naturalized citizen of the United Kingdom in 2012 and received a passport in 2013.

Nasirov himself denies any allegations that he has a British passport.  The Solomianskyi District Court of Kyiv did not take the evidence given by SAP into consideration and rejected the SAP’s petition on the UAH 100 mn pledge. The judge of the Court justified its decision by arguing that the evidence provided to the court was delivered with breaches of procedures. According to the judge, it violated the Criminal Code of Ukraine.

Britain steps in

The Embassy of the United Kingdom in Ukraine reacted to the court decision in the statement:

“We are deeply concerned about the recent decision in Kyiv’s Solomiansky Court, where evidence provided by the UK in relation to the case against Roman Nasirov was ruled inadmissible and disregarded.”

The statement also says that the British citizen Nasirov may be tried in the UK if he committed criminal offenses:

“This case underscores the urgent need for progress towards a reformed, independent and transparent judicial system and the swift introduction of specialized Anti-Corruption Courts with strictly vetted judges capable of properly trying high-profile corruption cases,” says the statement.

Meanwhile in the Fiscal Service

Different versions attempting to explain what is going on have been voiced. Some say this is a political play to teach him a lesson because he was stealing too much for himself. Others say that the case proves that the NABU, which is referred to as the leading anti-corruption institution in the country, is not dependent on President Poroshenko like some rumor it to be, as it investigates the case despite the huge resistance. The investigation of his case can reveal other corruption schemes, which may involve Ukraine’s top politicians.

Nasirov was perceived as a person of President Petro Poroshenko. However, he also used to serve members of the whole parliamentary coalition and had obligations before third-party players. Appointing an even more loyal person now would be even better for the president.

As Nasirov was suspended from his duties, Myroslav Prodan became the acting Head of the Fiscal Service. Previously, Prodan headed the Tax Administration in Vinnytsia Oblast. This oblast used to be the capital of Poroshenko’s business empire and his political fatherland. So the politicians and state officials from there are automatically considered as the president’s men, including Volodymyr Groysman, who worked as the mayor of Vinnytsia before being appointed as Prime Minister.

The first deputy head of Nasirov Serhiy Bilan could not take the position of acting Head because he is also under investigation.

The soap opera with the investigation of the so far most wanted Ukrainian corrupted top official is not over. During the last 4 months since the detectives first came to Nasirov, the system demonstrated that it would not give up that easily. However, the fact that the investigation against Nasirov is ongoing and that he is still in Ukraine illustrates the progress that Ukraine made in the fight against corruption. Still, society and Ukraine’s international partners should be especially attentive to the case – any weakness of the investigation can become an opportunity for the defense of the suspended head of the Fiscal Service to win him an escape from justice.

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