On June 26th, President Poroshenko signed a law establishing the High Anti-Corruption Court. The creation of the body was highly anticipated by both domestic and international observers. The Court is expected to be the last link in the chain of recently established bodies designed to fight top-level corruption in Ukraine and is one of the key conditions to unlock 1.9 billions in IMF aid.
As we previously mentioned on the pages of this blog, it has been a long and rocky road for the fight against corruption in Ukraine. Ukraine’s corruption levels reached an all-time high under the rule of Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014 and is currently under investigation. Since being elected in 2014, among other economic, political, and military problems facing the country, President Poroshenko also had to reform the justice system. In the past 4 years, Ukraine established three institutions tasked with fighting corruption in the country – National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, and the National Agency for Corruption Prevention. The role of the newly created High Anti-Corruption Court is to ensure that officials indicted by NABU face trial. Up to now, out of 220 indictments, only 21 officials have been convicted and no senior officials were imprisoned.
Since one of the central demands of the 2014 protests was to eradicate corruption in the country and bring corrupt officials to justice, the lack of convictions has started damaging the credibility of NABU as well as other institutions and governing bodies. According to the nationwide public opinion survey conducted in May 2018,
- 83% of Ukrainians believe that the fight against corruption in the country has not been successful so far
- Half of the population (50%) surveyed believe that it is a total failure
- 48% of the population believe that currently no institution in Ukraine is actively fighting corruption
- Only 11% believe that the National Anti-corruption Bureau was actively combating graft, but only 15% believe that its efforts are effective
- Only 4% of those surveyed believe that the President is actively fighting corruption
The new law addressed the criticism previously raised by the IMF and the World Bank and allowed international experts to play a significant role in selection of judges. At the NATO summit in Brussels on July 13, the President confirmed his willingness to allow international experts to be involved asking NATO member countries to provide experts as soon as possible.
However, barely signed, the law was criticised again for allowing a loophole. According to the original law, all politicians and other suspects currently under investigation by NABU would not have to face trial in the newly established anti-corruption court. Instead, they could be considered in ordinary courts. This affected not only 135 cases currently under investigation but also all other cases submitted before the court was established. Given that it may take between 6 months and 2 years before the anti-corruption court is fully established and operational, this would have given significant leeway to a number of corruption cases.
On the urging of the IMF, the original law had to be amended on July 12th to address the criticism. The amendment expanded the jurisdiction of the High Court to include the cases opened before the court was established. Whether the amendments will be enough to unlock the aid from the IMF remains to be seen. More importantly, however, experts agree that the reduction of corruption may require much more than punitive measures alone.