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Ukraine’s main anti-corruption prosecutor keeps office despite gross violations of professional ethics

Nazar Kholodnytskyi, the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO). Photo:
Ukraine’s main anti-corruption prosecutor keeps office despite gross violations of professional ethics
Edited by: Alya Shandra
On July 26, Ukrainian anti-corruption activists were eagerly following the decision of the Qualification-Disciplinary Commission of Public Prosecutors. It was deciding whether to dismiss Nazar Kholodnytskyi, the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), a new institution which implements procedural guidance on the top-corruption. In spring 2018, bugs in Kholodnytskyi’s office revealed that he intervened in the cases, disclosed the secrets of the investigation, grossly violated prosecutor’s ethics, influenced prosecutors etc. Nevertheless, the commission decided to impose a disciplinary penalty on Kholodnytskyi – he got a mere reprimand.

In 2015, as part of a strategy to tackle corruption and modernize Ukraine after the Euromaidan Revolution,  two institutions were created from scratch — the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO). Both have the goal of investigating top-level corruption.

In March 2018, the SAPO head found bugs in the aquarium near his table in his cabinet. They were placed by NABU.

It turned that NABU asked the Prosecutor General’s Office the permission to open criminal proceedings against Kholodnytskyi. The Prosecutor General’s Office agreed and NABU was sanctioned to bug Kholodnytskyi’s cabinet. The equipment was in the aquarium for a few weeks.

The information revealed with the help of NABU was insufficient to open a criminal case against Kholodnytskyi. However, it was given for analysis to the Qualification-Disciplinary Commission of Public Prosecutors (QDCPP), which might have lead to Kholodnytskyi’s dismissal.

Read what have been revealed against Kholodnytskiy: Divorce of Ukrainian anti-corruption institutions: will it affect the investigations against top-corrupts?

Civil society started to sound alarms before the decision. According to anti-corruption NGOs and the NABU head, if Kholodnytskyi stays in the office, big cases against the top-corrupts might be endangered.

And this already started to happen. Recently, SAPO decided to close the case against Oleksandr Avakov, the son of the Minister of Internal Affairs Arsen Avakov, and Avakov’s ex-deputy head Serhiy Chebotar. Nicknamed “Avakov’s backpacks” in the media, this episode led to the embezzlement of UAH 14mn ($533,750) of state funds. According to the case,Avakov Jr., Chebotar, and one more person were involved in purchasing backpacks for the National Guard using the money of the Ministry in 2015. The price for them was much higher than the market average and the backpacks did not fit the criteria of the Ministry. In April 2018, NABU informed that it completed the pre-trial investigation regarding all three. The third person involved, an entrepreneur Volodymyr Lytvyn, admitted his guilt. In the mid July 2018, SAPO closed the case against Avakov Jr. and Chebotar motivating it by the lack of evidence.

Also, two days before the Commission decided to not sack Kholodnytskyi, SAPO closed the case of an MP from Narodnyi Front (the party of ex-prime Minister Arseniy Yatseniuk) Denys Dzenzerskiy who did not disclose the fact that he owes banks UAH 4 bn ($150,280 mn) in his public assets declaration. NABU has been working on the case since the beginning of 2017.

Apart from the story revealed with the help of NABU bugs, there are other claims towards Kholodnytskiy. In particular, it was revealed recently that he owns half a hectare of land in an expensive Kyiv suburb. He got the majority of it for free during the times he used to work as a prosecutor in that suburb.

Also, the article of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC), an NGO which was standing behind the idea of the creation of SAPO and NABU, stresses other compromising aspects of Kholodnytskyi’s activities.

For example, he is a vice-president of the Football Federation of Ukraine. Its honorary president is Hryhoriy Surkis. Kholodnytskiy took up the position just at the time when the SAPO prosecutors and the NABU detectives were investigating criminal proceeding against the Surkis brothers. Apart from that, recently NABU opened criminal proceedings into the schemes of constructing football fields, where the Football Federation of Ukraine is allegedly involved.

Nevertheless, civil society representatives had little hope that the Qualification-Disciplinary Commission of Public Prosecutors will decide to dismiss Kholodnytskyi. They believed that the old prosecutor’s system would cover up one of its representatives.

The day before the meeting of the Commission, 33 out of 45 SAPO prosecutors signed a letter in support of Kholodnytskyi. AntAC explains that the letter has a price. According to the anti-corruption NGO, the public asset disclosure declarations of the prosecutors who signed the letter reveal that their monthly income was over UAH 100,000 ($3,733) while their regular salary was UAH 35,000 ($ 1,314). Apparently, the extra money came from bonuses.

Previously, journalists of Ukrainska Pravda were also doubtful whether Kholodnytskyi would be dismissed. Petty offenses like those he committed. would lead to dismissal of any prosecutor; however, Kholodnytskyi is safeguarded against being sacked easily. The thing is that when the anti-corruption architecture was formed in Ukraine in 2014-2015, its creators aimed to make the NABU and SAPO independent. Thus, the legislation makes it difficult to dismiss them. Otherwise, they would not have enough powers to fight top-corruption.

After the Commision voiced its decision, the Embassy of the US has already reacted on the situation:

“In a modern democracy, prosecutors who engage in witness tampering and obstruction of justice resign for the sake of the institution and in support of rule of law principles.”

Also, the Ukrainian Office of Transparency International released its statement calling on Kholodnytskyi to resign:

The Head of an institution is its leader and the representative by whom the entire institution is judged – that is why his soiled reputation casts shade on the entire SAPO. Given the circumstances, TI Ukraine urges Nazar Kholodnytskyi to resign. Preservation of SAPO’s independence and people’s trust in the institution is essential for further anti-corruption activity in Ukraine.”

The decision of the Commision can be appealed.  NABU Head Artem Sytnk has already stated that he is going to do so and to demand Kholodnytskyi’s dismissal.

Edited by: Alya Shandra
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