Sunday, April 18, 2021

Ukraine’s court strips critical power from anti-corruption agency


Ukraine’s Constitutional Court has stripped the country’s anti-corruption agency of some of its critical powers.

The high court’s ruling published on October 28 declared it unconstitutional to hold officials criminally liable for intentionally providing false information on asset declarations. It also struck down several powers of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption (NAZK).

The court decision may impact lending from the International Monetary Fund and threaten visa liberalization with the European Union.

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Anti-corruption campaigners said the ruling undermines Ukraine’s battle against graft.

“The decision of the Constitutional Court will lead to a significant rollback in Ukraine’s anti-corruption reform,” watchdog Transparency International Ukraine’s Executive Director Andrii Borovyk said in a statement. “These legislative provisions were the cornerstones of the anti-corruption system, while corruption has been recognized as one of the threats to the national security.”

The court ruled unconstitutional NAZK’s powers to verify asset declarations and monitor officials’ lifestyles for signs of corruption. Free public access to officials’ declarations was also made illegal, as was electronic declarations meant to increase transparency.

Among other things, it also deprived the NAZK of the right to access registers, draft reports on violations, and conduct anti-corruption inspections in government agencies.

The decision cannot be appealed.

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President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said Ukraine would continue to fight corruption. He also suggested he would take legislative action to restore the electronic declaration system and hold those who intentionally violate rules to account.

“Ukrainian officials and deputies will continue to declare their property and income, and anti-corruption bodies will have the necessary powers to inspect them and bring violators to justice,” he said in a statement.

The ruling could impact reforms required under a $5 billion International Monetary Fund deal Zelenskiy’s government secured in June to fight a sharp economic slowdown caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

But the IMF has held back tranches due to concerns over Ukraine’s performance in tackling corruption and implementing reforms. Visa liberalization with the EU is also contingent on Ukraine fighting endemic corruption.

The court ruling is also controversial because four judges are under investigation by the NAZK for failing to properly declare assets in their declarations.

The four judges did not recuse themselves from the case, despite calls to do so from the government and anti-corruption campaigners.


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