Chairman of Ukraine's National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) Oleksandr Novikov headed a Ukrainian delegation that arrived in New York to attend a special session of the UN General Assembly against corruption, which took place at the UN headquarters on June 2-4. With his physical participation in the work of the General Assembly, Novikov opened the "season" of visits to the main international organization after a one-and-a-half-year break due to COVID-19.
This is not the first time that Novikov has answered Ukrinform's questions. This time we are talking about his visit to the U.S. and the latest developments in the fight against corruption, of which a lot has happened over the past month. About new anti-corruption laws and projects that are waiting for their turn, the closure of the case against the ex-head of the Constitutional Court, Oleksandr Tupytsky, and much more.
WE HAVE SOMETHING TO SHARE WITH THE WORLD
Question: Oleksandr Fedorovych, you have arrived in New York to participate in a special session of the UN General Assembly against corruption. What can Ukraine boast of from such a high rostrum?
Answer: To date, Ukraine has introduced the best tools to prevent corruption. We have the world's widest, most modern register of asset declarations, which covers not only the assets of officials, but also their corporate rights, membership in organizations. Therefore, it allows us to control, in particular, cases of conflict of interests of officials. We have the newest and best register of political parties' financial statements in the world, which was introduced just a month ago.
In addition, Ukraine is building a system of quality management in the field of control - all inspections will be carried out automatically, ie declarations are automatically checked by reconciling with all registers. Thus, inaccurate information cannot be hidden.
In short, we have something to share with the world, including IT tools for preventing corruption.
In the United States, we have a wide program of meetings, both in New York and in Washington. We want to share the tools we have with other countries around the world.
Some countries are just beginning to think about the implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption in terms of creating a mechanism for declaring income, and we have actually done this.
Question: But, probably, there is something to learn from others, especially from the United States?
Answer: Ukraine has introduced such a procedure as monitoring the lifestyle of public officials. This is a new procedure for us, we have been using it for less than a year. Last year, we were able to apply it for only four months, until a well-known decision of the Constitutional Court was made. After the restoration of the NACP's powers, this work was resumed.
[On October 27, 2020, the Constitutional Court recognized unconstitutional Article 366-1 of the Criminal Code on penalties for lies in asset declarations. In particular, the Constitutional Court declared unconstitutional the powers of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NACP) to verify officials' asset declarations, monitor the lifestyle of those who submit asset declarations, establish the timeliness of submission of asset declarations, as well as provisions on open access to declarations in the unified state register.]
We would like our American colleagues who have been working in this direction since the early 1970s to share the experience of such inspections. This is a unique mechanism - lifestyle monitoring - no one knows how to do it better than Americans.
PARLIAMENT MEMBERS TOOK THE OPPORTUNITY TO WEAKEN DECLARATION SYSTEM
Question: The scandalous decision of the Constitutional Court caused a lot of harm in the fight against corruption, as many corruption cases against officials were closed. But on June 3, the Verkhovna Rada seems to have rectified the situation by adopting amendments to the Law on Prevention of Corruption regarding the improvement of certain aspects of the declaration.
Answer: As early as December 15, the Verkhovna Rada restored the NACP's powers to verify officials' asset declarations, draw up protocols on officials, monitor their lifestyle, as well as provided open access to declarations in the unified state register.
And amendments to the law of June 3 should provide for the restoration of punishment for inaccurate information in declarations.
However, in practice, they wanted to use this opportunity to once again try to weaken the declaration system. During the voting in the hall, amendments were made, which in fact allowed officials to register property with relatives, thus avoiding any liability at all.
NACP, NABU, and NGOs called on the president to veto the law. And the president responded quickly to the call.
Therefore, we hope that the punishment for lying in the declaration will be restored as soon as possible. According to the NACP, imprisonment must be provided if an official has not registered property worth UAH 1 million or more.
Question: It seems that the NACP cannot freely monitor the lifestyle of judges.
Answer: Well, yes ... Because we have to inform the judge that we will monitor his lifestyle.
It is clear that a judge who has an expensive car or lives in an elite house will stop using them after we inform him about the inspection, and we will not be able to record the relevant fact. There is a systemic error here at the level of legislation.
ANTI-CORRUPTION STRATEGY WILL MAKE EACH PUBLIC BODY ANTI-CORRUPTION
Question: The recent visit of U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken to Ukraine has once again demonstrated that the United States pays great attention to the fight against corruption in Ukraine, rightly considering it the second front, if the first is to resist Russian aggression. Do Americans have any questions for your agency?
Answer: Our body has been given a rather high assessment, including by the Constitutional Court, regarding the effectiveness of its activities. In terms of control mechanisms, it is difficult to improve something.
However, an important part of our work is the Anti-Corruption Strategy, which must be voted on in parliament in the second reading. [The draft law on the principles of state anti-corruption policy for 2020-2024 (Anti-Corruption Strategy) was adopted in the first reading on November 5, 2020.]
The anti-corruption strategy is not only about the fact that the NACP should take measures to prevent corruption, but it is a document that will make every public body in the country anti-corruption thanks to a whole set of principles and specific steps.
Question: Are you completely satisfied with the version that is being prepared for adoption in the second reading?
Answer: Two short stories, prepared by the NACP, may not be included in the project.
The first one is the need to create a register of bank accounts of individuals. The second refers to the transfer of protocols on violations by officials of category A (ministers, deputies, and judges of the Constitutional Court), as well as criminal proceedings on violations of funding rules by political parties - to the High Anti-Corruption Court for consideration.
Why is it important … During my work at the NACP - a year and five months - the National Police received two dozen files related to forgery of documents on the reports of political parties or transfer of funds received from the state budget under fictitious agreements to individual entrepreneurs. None of these cases have actually been investigated. And we understand why ...
Therefore, this category of cases should be investigated by independent anti-corruption bodies.
Defects in the legislation are also demonstrated by the recent decision of the Holosiivsky Court, which closed the proceedings in the case of bringing to administrative responsibility Chairman of the Constitutional Court Oleksandr Tupytsky, who was dismissed by the president from the post of judge.
Tupytsky was actually acquitted by a court, although even the Venice Commission says he had a conflict of interest and it is obvious. He repealed an article in the Criminal Code [on holding officials accountable for inaccurate information in the declaration], which provides for his own responsibility. In addition, a meeting of the ethics commission of the Constitutional Court was to take place on the fact of violation of ethics by Tupytsky, and he himself canceled it.
Question: And how can it end?
Answer: It has not yet ended. Judicial reform needs to be completed. We do not need to start, open, continue, but just complete it. We need to transfer politically important cases, including administrative ones, to the High Anti-Corruption Court.
ANTI-OLIGARCHIC MEASURES PROVIDED IN STRATEGY
Question: Were you involved in the preparation of the so-called anti-oligarchic bill, which is so much written about?
Answer: We were not involved in the development of this bill, at the same time, the Anti-Corruption Strategy contains a number of tools that should ensure the independence of the political system from financial and industrial groups.
One of the tools of such independence is the financing of political parties from the budget.
The second tool is the prohibition of financing parties by legal entities. This will make it impossible for financial and industrial groups to influence the parties through funding by public organizations associated with legal entities.
The third one - the Anti-Corruption Strategy contains a number of norms that strengthen the powers of the Antimonopoly Committee to destroy the monopolies existing in the country.
PORTAL OF CORRUPTION WHISTLEBLOWERS GUARANTEES ANONYMITY
Question: On June 1, the Verkhovna Rada adopted a law on corruption whistleblowers, which had previously been vetoed by the president. How has this document changed compared to the previous version?
Answer: The law, passed with the president's veto, is in full compliance with both the UN Convention against Corruption and all international standards for the protection of whistleblowers.
The approved version stipulates that the whistleblower, if he is sure that the information about corruption is reliable, can report it to law enforcement agencies. The previous version obliged to provide some kind of confirmation. That is, a citizen could know about corruption, but without evidence, he could not report it.
But the main thing is that this bill provides for the creation of a portal of whistleblowers.
Frankly, as the head of the NACP, I sometimes have to figure out which body is authorized to engage in certain acts of corruption. And the portal of the whistleblowers immediately sends you to the right body. For example, in the case of corruption in the land sector, you go to the appropriate section and select the option - depending on the type of corruption - where to contact: the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre, the Ministry of Agrarian Policy, the National Police, or the State Bureau of Investigation, and the like. This will significantly speed up the consideration of reports, and they will be directed to a specific person who should consider them, and not get lost somewhere in the middle. Of course, we are obliged to control the quality of consideration of reports. This means that we will know where they went, and thus ensure the proper level of their consideration.
Since this will be the newest whistleblower system developed in the world, it will be the best.
Question: Will whistleblowers be rewarded for reporting? Has this provision remained in the law?
Answer: Yes, even if they complain anonymously. A digital code is issued through the portal, and after the court verdict, when the person is convicted, one can apply with this digital code to the NACP, and, as provided by the law, receive 10 percent of the amount of the returned funds. The uniqueness of the mechanism is that anonymity can be preserved.
Question: Do you support the practice of deliberately provoking bribery in order to catch a potential corrupt official red-handed?
Answer: From the point of view of a mechanism for preventing and combating corruption, this would be an effective tool.
SYSTEM OF ARITHMETIC CONTROL OF DECLARATIONS LAUNCHED ON JUNE 1
Question: The campaign for filing income and expenditure declarations has recently ended. Are there any preliminary findings?
Answer: Literally on June 1, the system of logical and arithmetic control over declarations started working. This applies to all 780 thousand declarations that were filed before April 1, 2020. That is, all of them have been verified with previous declarations, in general, with 14 registries that exist in the state, and a risk rating for declarations has been formed. Under the new rules, for the first time as a result of cooperation with non-governmental organizations and the Public Council under the NACP, we received a risk rating for declarations, according to which we will select them for verification.
Among the first ten are not only the declarations of MPs, but also of members of local councils. This is how the computer identified the risk of the possibility of obtaining illegal income or undeclared property.
Question: During the week the NACP sent 40 protocols on various violations to the court ... What has happened to these protocols? And which court do they go? The High Anti-Corruption Court?
Answer: We wish it were so ... We would very much like it to be the High Anti-Corruption Court, because we have no doubts about the pace and objectivity of the consideration of the protocols by this court.
The example of the chairman of the Constitutional Court, to whom the Holosiivsky court closed the case, shows how this, unfortunately, happens ...
As a rule, protocols are sent to the Pechersky and Shevchenkivsky courts of Kyiv in the case of employees of central authorities. If these are officials of regional state administrations, mayors of cities, as in the case of the former mayor of Chernivtsi, Oleksiy Kaspruk, then the protocols are sent to local courts. For example, two weeks ago the court considered the protocol on the governor of Sumy region, Vasyl Khoma…
It can be any court in Ukraine, depending on where the offense was committed.
Question: And what is the purpose of the register of bank accounts of individuals that you mentioned?
Answer: Most of the civilized countries of the world have such registers.
There is a situation when NABU confiscates several million dollars in cash from a suspect, but most corrupt funds can be kept in accounts, and if you do not find a piece of paper with a written number or a bank card attached to the account, you won’t even know which bank those funds are saved. Thus, huge sums are hidden from justice.
The account register is information not about transactions, but about the availability of accounts.
Question: You spoke about the budget financing of parties, which was introduced to combat oligarchic influence. Do you seriously believe that the law on financing parties from the budget deprives them of influence from the oligarchs?
Answer: The law itself does not... Much work is needed, including ours, to monitor compliance with restrictions on the financing of parties by financial and industrial groups.
We saw in the last elections, when some parties declared in their reports that they had spent one or two million on outdoor advertising, but in fact the whole country was covered with their advertisements, and it is clear that these funds were not reported. On such facts, we wrote the findings of the inspections and sent them to law enforcement agencies. If these cases were properly investigated and there were appropriate court decisions, it would prevent the further influence of dirty money on the political system.
Question: All public bodies have anti-corruption commissioners ... a kind of network of your agents. How independent are these commissioners?
Answer: They are appointed by the heads of the relevant bodies, but they can be dismissed only with the consent of the NACP. That is, in terms of dismissal, they are protected, as shown by the situation with Energoatom, where we appealed in court against the dismissal of the commissioner - advisor to the director for preventing and combating corruption of this public enterprise. They also went to court because of the dismissal of the head of the sector for prevention and detection of corruption of the Maritime Administration, Yuriy Kulaha, by the head of the State Service of Maritime and River Transport without the consent of the NACP.
IN 2014 I REGISTERED CRIMINAL PROCEEDING AGAINST LAVRYNOVYCH
Question: In the United States, they write a lot about the initiation of a criminal case against Trump's former lawyer, ex-mayor of New York Rudy Giuliani, whom the Manhattan district attorney's office suspects of lobbying the interests of Ukrainian businessmen. Is something like this possible in our country? Can we initiate a case for lobbying the interests of foreign citizens?
Answer: In 2014, I registered a criminal proceeding against former Minister of Justice Oleksandr Lavrynovych for the illegal transfer of funds to the Dutch office of the American company Skadden in the case of Yulia Tymoshenko v. Ukraine considered by the European Court of Human Rights. The money was transferred by the Ministry of Justice from the budget retroactively after the case was closed at the ECHR. We recorded this, and the case is being heard in the Podilsky court of Kyiv.
This is possible in Ukraine. The question is in the efficiency of the legal proceedings in such cases.
The Anti-Corruption Strategy envisages the settlement of lobbying issues. And I hope our American colleagues will share their experience.
Question: One of your functions is to conduct an examination of legal acts for corruption loopholes ... Does this apply to bills or all acts, including those already approved and valid?
Answer: The law stipulates that the examination of valid legal documents is carried out by the Ministry of Justice. We cannot subject them to examination, even if they are corrupt. Our powers apply only to draft laws and legal acts of the government.
But we will initiate amendments to the law regarding the transfer of the right to conduct anti-corruption examination of current documents of executive authorities to the NACP. The existing corruption schemes are often enshrined in already adopted acts.
WE WILL WITHSTAND ANY BLOW BECAUSE THERE IS POLITICAL WILL IN THE STATE
Question: The nature of the anti-corruption body in the state is such that it is doomed to conflict with other government agencies, and even with officials. Are you ready to take a hit?
Answer: We took a hit when the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) tried to influence the NACP in connection with the inspection of SBI acting head Oleksandr Babikov, who was the lawyer of former President Yanukovych. We withstood such a blow from the Constitutional Court, which, as they say, put an end to everything that was done in the fight against corruption.
We are sure that we will withstand any blow! Most importantly, we see the political will when all central executive bodies, the prime minister personally, took part in the development of the Anti-Corruption Strategy, which was approved by the government, and then by the National Council on Anti-Corruption Policy under the president. And it includes the chairman of the Verkhovna Rada, the president, the head of the President's Office, heads of all law enforcement agencies of the state, including the head of the Security Service. When we have such a strategy, it will be a broad front of allies, and we will be able to implement everything that is provided for by our law and everything that is written in the UN Convention against Corruption. In fact, we have almost completely implemented it; it remains to obtain a short-term and then a long-term result in order to dramatically reduce the level of corruption in the state.
As you know, we have two wars – against Russia and corruption. I am sure that thanks to the Anti-Corruption Strategy and the mechanisms that have already been introduced in Ukraine and will continue to be introduced by us, we will win the war against corruption, and then we will win the war against Russia.
Volodymyr Ilchenko, New York
Photo credit: the author and Hennadiy Minchenko