Anti-graft agency head on unscrupulous draft commissioners and controversial bills – interview

Head of the NACP Oleksandr Novikov
Head of the NACP Oleksandr Novikov

Oleksandr Novikov, the head of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention or NACP, said in an interview with NV Radio on Oct. 23 that he hopes Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy will not sign the controversial bill that changes the procedure to prosecute local government officials.

After all, 40,000 people who have committed corruption and corruption-related offenses would disappear from law enforcement registers, he said.

Novikov explained why the lawmakers suggested “forgetting the corrupt officials” and how certain people had illegally “earned” millions at military recruitment centers across the country.

NV: Tell us more about the existing bill. Why can 10,000 people who have already been entered into the register of corrupt officials disappear from it?

Novikov: Dmytro [NV Radio host], first of all, this is not a bill, but a law that has already been voted and passed by the Verkhovna Rada [Ukraine’s parliament].

NV: But it hasn’t been signed by the president yet, right?

Novikov: But not signed yet. We hope the president won’t sign it. The deadline for imposing a veto has already passed. But we have examples when the bill was passed by the Verkhovna Rada, but the president didn’t sign it, and this is not one such bill. Second. Not 10,000, but 40,000 people who have committed corruption and corruption-related offenses will be removed from this register.

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We have a large country and a large population, thank God, the largest in terms of territory [in Europe]. And, hopefully, we’ll return to those indicators that were in terms of population after our victory. Why are we talking about 10,000? Because 10,000 are those who have committed criminal offenses. If this bill is enacted by the president, these 10,000 people who have committed criminal offenses will be removed from the register of persons who have committed corruption and corruption-related offenses.

They will have the opportunity to participate in [state] procurement. The law on procurement now prohibits, if a person is in the register, to participate in procurement, in particular procurement for the supply of the Ukrainian army. This is a major risk.

And secondly, after such deletion of 80% of the registry data, no Ukrainian official would be able to fully vet any given candidate for civil service. Since there will be no official source of data on persons who have been entered into this register.

NV: How did it happen? What was the motivation for this law, as far you know?

Novikov: This law (which contradicts the Law of Ukraine “On Prevention of Corruption,” contradicts the Constitution) was developed by the Justice Ministry. We don’t know the ministry’s logic regarding this law on forgetting corrupt officials.

NV: 10,000 are those who have committed criminal offenses. And the rest, who are these 30,000 officials? What violations have they committed?

Novikov: Corruption criminal offenses include embezzlement and misappropriation of state and public property, as well as abuse of power in one’s own interests or in the interests of third parties. These are the two categories of crimes that are the most common and for which the relevant courts most often issue sentences.

The Criminal Code of Ukraine lists the types of crimes that are considered corruption crimes. And depending on what these crimes are, people receive the appropriate court sentence.

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For example, one of the deputy ministers was convicted in 2019, but despite this, he was appointed to the position. Because we haven’t yet received the court’s decision, obviously he couldn’t be appointed. These are also some lawmakers who have already vacated their seats were convicted by the High Anti-Corruption Court in 2023.

After this law comes into force, these legislators who offered large bribes, for example, will be able to continue participating in procurement and run for office as if nothing happened.

Regarding [former] President [Viktor] Yanukovych. Lessons were drawn from his case, the legislator made changes to the law on public procurement, on public service, namely regulations that prohibit people on this register from running for office or holding positions in certain state bodies. This is correction work that has been made and may now be wasted if this bill is signed into law.

NV: We’re trying to understand the logic of this law. Is “amnesty” possible at all?

Novikov: The point is that it’s necessary to distinguish between a criminal record, which is the consequences under the criminal law, and the presence of a person in the register of persons who have committed corruption and corruption-related offenses. Indeed, according to the Criminal Code, any criminal legal consequences, for example, bans imposed by the court, lose their validity.

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The register’s essence and logic are about something else. The relevant articles of the Constitution determine that the state can regulate the order by law, establish certain criteria (this is not about lustration [dismissal]), inconsistency with which will mean that a person doesn’t meet the criteria for admission to the position. The state has established in the laws that if a person was convicted of a corruption crime, he cannot participate in public procurement. At the same time, the state hasn’t directly established that such a person cannot hold any public office.

But what did the state do? So that any manager, including the president, minister, the High Qualification Commission when appointing judges, could take this information into account and find out the reputational or possible corruption risks associated with such a person. The register was created for this purpose.

It doesn’t automatically lead to a person not being appointed. But it automatically leads to a ban on participation in state procurement.

NV: Did you manage to talk to the lawmakers? Maybe they explained the logic behind the bill?

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Novikov: This register seems to include 10 lawmakers, so their interest in the adoption of this bill is obvious. Perhaps, indeed, there is logic in establishing a maximum period of stay in this register of people who have committed administrative offenses. For example, they failed to submit an [asset] declaration on time.

Why, perhaps, there is logic in this, but this wasn’t done in the law, but [they want to remove from the register] just everyone, including those who have committed criminal offenses? Because the civil service law stipulates that for three years after a person has committed an administrative offense related to corruption, he cannot hold a public office. But the legislators didn’t even take this into account. In the law we’re discussing, he said that one year after the [offense] is committed, such a person is subject to removal from the register.

NV: How rude would it be to assume that the corrupt officials themselves are interested in this law?

Novikov: This is not merely an assumption, as the National Agency on Corruption Prevention shares the same opinion.

NV: Then it’s not clear why the majority of Ukrainian lawmakers vote for it.

Novikov: I cannot comment. We’re sure that most lawmakers are honest. They were probably misled.

NV: And sometimes they probably should read the bills they vote for.

Novikov: I agree with you. Always, not sometimes.

NV: At least some key documents should be read.

Novikov: This document is crucial, because 92% of Ukrainian citizens believe that no loopholes should allow people who have committed corruption offenses to avoid submitting digital [asset] declarations (and this law is related to resuming the obligation to declare).

However, the lawmakers ignored this request of the Ukrainian public, as well as the one that corruption is the second biggest problem in Ukraine after the war.

NV: Do you know cases when a person was on the list of corrupt officials, but has since proven their innocence and was expunged from the register?

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Novikov: Currently, the legislation provides that the cancellation of an order imposing a disciplinary sanction, for example, as a result of which a person [found himself] in the register, is the basis for being stuck from it. Revoking the court decision, on the basis of which a person is in the register, as you mentioned, is also a reason for removing a person from this register. Such cases really do happen.

But these are general procedures established by procedural legislation, i.e., criminal, administrative, or civil service legislation, or the Labor Code, and not a separate law on “forgetting” corrupt officials.

NV: What’s the situation with [digital] declarations? And when can we expect that the system will be open, transparent, and everyone involved in anti-corruption issues will be able to use this register?

Novikov: All declarations will be available to the public and media on Dec. 10. We’ll open public access to the electronic register. This register, in accordance with the requirements of the law that was passed, will classify information about people on whom we’ll receive submissions from the heads of local authorities.

NV: Do you mean people who were registered, perhaps, in Russia-occupied territories? What are the exceptions?

Novikov: Information about people participating in the defense of Ukraine is subject to removal. Except for those who hold positions in recruitment centers, military medical commissions, and units engaged in procurement. In addition, information about people whose declarations are available in the register, but who are in the occupied territories, as well as their relatives, is subject to removal.

NV: Regarding recruitment centers. You’ve examined the situation. What have you discovered amid those high-profile scandals that were accompanied by investigations into some draft commissioners?

Novikov: As of today, the general results of lifestyle monitoring regarding the management staff of recruitment centers indicate UAH 255 million ($6.9 million) of illegal enrichment by the relevant officials.

NV: And how many people are involved in this?

Novikov: I’m not prepared to give an exact number. We’ve published the data [on the website].

NV: What’s next? Will any investigations be initiated based on this data?

Novikov: First, the SBI [State Bureau of Investigation] has charged Yevhen Borysov, the former head of the Odesa regional territorial recruitment center. Then the head of the procurement sector, i.e., a subordinate of this draft commissioner. We submitted materials against him to the Southern Region Specialized Prosecutor’s Office. We established similar violations by another subordinate, namely the head of Odesa’s Malynovskyi district territorial recruitment center, for UAH 47 million ($1.2 million).

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And what’s surprising, Dmytro: many officials buy very expensive Mercedes-Benz cars during the war. In this regard, we decided to check all owners of new Mercedes-Benz cars, starting from 2020. The inspection of draft commissioners led us to this because we can say this is a car [brand] that corrupt officials pay special attention to.

Also, UAH 8.5 million ($232,374) at Dnipropetrovsk regional territorial recruitment center, as well as UAH 1.8 million ($49,208) with deputy head of the Poltava territorial recruitment center. All these materials have been submitted to the prosecutor’s office.

NV: Regarding the Mercedes-Benz brand. This has long been “a car for officials.” And draft commissioners, are they military people? They’re all military officers, right?

Novikov: Yes. I’d like to add that these facts of corruption among territorial recruitment center’s heads actually are in contrast with ordinary employees of these centers, most of whom, as the results of our monitoring have shown, are honest people.

In any category of officials, most of them are honest. And they drive Ukrainian-made [Daewoo] Lanos cars, not Mercedes, relatively speaking.

NV: Another NACP’s initiative is a public discussion of the bill on preventing the abuse of powers by judges. What do you propose to bring the legislative branch to European standards?

Novikov: A few years ago, the Constitutional Court abolished the responsibility of judges for rendering unjust rulings. After that, we saw how the Pechersk District Court or the District Administrative Court of Kyiv (since disbanded), or one of Kyiv’s district courts seems to have issued a decision outside of its jurisdiction. They forbade the air service to do something or revoked licenses without having any authority to do so, or they determined who should be the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine or NABU (the decision of the District Administrative Court of Kyiv, as we remember), or the Pechersk District Court made decisions in cases under investigation by the NABU. All this happened due to the lack of clear responsibility for such decisions.

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Therefore, the state anti-corruption program approved by the government provides for the return of judges’ responsibility for perversion of justice, necessarily taking into account the decision of the Constitutional Court so as not to call into question the constitutionality of this decision. After the return of such responsibility, we’re sure that such decisions of the courts that I mentioned simply cannot be part of the Ukrainian justice system anymore. Because this is the interference of judges in the activities of their colleagues, and it’s clearly illegal.

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