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Kyiv Post | 17Sep2016 | Brian Bonner,  [2] 17Sep2016

Lutsenko’s leaky glass doesn’t cut it at YES conference

[W.Z. The Yalta European Strategy (YES) conference organized by Oligarch Viktor Pinchuk was held in Kyiv on 16/18Sep2016. As editor/owner of the Kyiv Post English-language newspaper, he possesses detailed knowledge of the situation in Ukraine and has recently become very critical of President Petro Poroshenko and his administration. Other articles by Mr. Bonner on this website page are at bonner20160602KyivPost.html, bonner20160207KyivPost.html and bonner20151201KyivPost.html .]

If anybody can look silly talking about the serious subject of corruption, it’s General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko. Unfortunately, silly is what people want from a comedian or a clown, not the most powerful law enforcement official in Ukraine.

Not for the first time in public, Lutsenko poured water into a plastic cup that he had punched holes in. He held it up as the audience watched the water leak out. His visual aid was meant to symbolize how he sees his task -- stopping corrupt schemes (repairing the glass) so that budget revenues don’t leak out like water, leaving Ukraine’s treasury as empty as the leaky glass.

The prop show took place over the lunchtime discussion called “Changing Elites in Ukraine” at the 13th annual Yalta European Strategy conference on Sept. 17, 2016 in Kyiv.

The problem many have with his analogy is that Lutsenko has his priorities wrong, assuming he is not entirely incompetent in his post, an open question given his lack of legal or prosecutorial experience in the job he has held since May 2016.

Lutsenko was talking more like a member of parliament, emphasizing the need for new legislation, rather than a prosecutor, which involves criminal investigations and filing formal charges against those who stole $40 billion from the nation since 2010 and against those who ordered many murders, including those of 100 EuroMaidan Revolution demonstrators just before President Viktor Yanukovych fled power on Feb. 22, 2014.

“I don't think the most important part of my job is to calculate the number of imprisoned and arrested criminals,” Lutsenko said. “That’s only one part of my job.”

Excuse me, but prosecuting people for crimes is the most important part of your job, Lutsenko. Countries that don’t punish corruption, like Ukraine, are poorer than those who do.

It’s no wonder, however, that Lutsenko doesn’t want to keep score because prosecutors would have nothing to put up on the scoreboard except zeroes – as in zero trials or convictions for major corruption and capital crimes.

Lutsenko, incidentally, skipped a morning panel on “Fighting Corruption." My guess is he made it only to the lunchtime meeting on the calculation that he would not face tough questioning.

Fortunately, however, Mikheil Saakashvili, the Odesa Oblast governor and former Georgian president, and Mustafa Nayyem, the member of parliament and investigative journalist, raised clear-headed and correct criticism.

Saakashvili said that, despite Ukraine being at war with Russia, the Ukrainian elite “shares the same values of Russia’s elite.” Those in top political power positions are “children of Kuchma,” meaning protégés of ex-President Leonid Kuchma, the autocratic president who ruled for 10 years until 2004. Saakashvili said that Ukrainian and Russian elites enjoy the same lifestyles, earn money the same way – “rent from commodities” and create a “closed system” that is akin to a closed joint-stock oligarch society.

He said that Ukraine’s oligarchs effectively choose the president, prime minister, members of parliament and other proxies by backing them with financial and media resources.

The way forward, Saakashvili said, is for Ukrainian voters to elect new leaders in the next elections. “In the end, I’m optimistic,” he said.

Nayyem took Lutsenko to task for holding secret meetings with President Petro Poroshenko, billionaire oligarch Igor Kolomoisky -- who owns the nation's largest bank and many other major assets -- and Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

Going back to the leaky glass metaphor, Nayyem also said that Lutsenko and Ukraine’s elites have done nothing to break Ukrainian billionaire Rinat Akhmetov’s monopoly control of the energy market. Such schemes, he said, are robbing the state’s budget of revenues.

Nayyem said that the Bloc of Petro Poroshenko, of which he is a member, and Narodny Front, led by ex-Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, have blocked legislation to create an independent energy regulator to oversee the critical energy sector.

“This government does not have will to fight corruption. We are talking about lack of will to fight monopolies,” Nayyem said. He also urged Lutsenko “to serve the country and the people” and not insiders.

The elites keeping alive the old corrupt oligarch have media, money and law enforcement on their side, while the reformers have transparency, freedom of speech and accountability on their side, Nayyem said.

Right now, he said, the reformers are weaker, but as the two sides battle for control, “the country loses.” Moreover, Nayyem said, “you cannot criticize” the elites in or out of power. If you do, they are so thin-skinned that they accuse their critics of working for Russia or being an enemy of Ukraine’s state.

Tying the theme of unpunished corruption with economic development, Kyiv lawyer Daniel Bilak said that the single biggest obstacle to foreign investment is Ukraine’s corruption and lack of rule of law.

Let’s hope Lutsenko, the oligarchs and their representatives took this lunchtime advice to heart. But I doubt it. Ukraine’s progress will speed up, in my view, only when -- as Saaskashvili and Nayyem said -- new leaders are elected who are not tied into the old oligarch ways of doing business and truly serve the people.

Only then will Ukrainians get the country, government and economy they deserve.

Kyiv Post | 17Sep2016 | Brian Bonner

Prime ministers again deflect blame on failing corruption fight in Ukraine

A new year at the Yalta European Strategy and yet it’s the same old story on the anti-corruption front in Ukraine: The same corrupt prosecutors, the same corrupt judges and same lame excuses are coming from Ukraine’s political leaders.

And that’s why Ukraine’s broken criminal justice system has not prosecuted or brought to trial any big corruption suspects -- zero.

That means the $11.4 billion stolen from the banking system is not coming back anytime soon, nor will anybody be held accountable for the looting. That means the $40 billion pilfered by ex-President Viktor Yanukovych and his cronies will not be coming back soon, nor will anybody be brought to justice for the crimes.

Unfortunately, it means also that nobody committing crimes today -- stealing or murdering -- have anything to fear, especially if they have the right political connections.

And that is why, 16 years after the murder of Ukrainska Pravda journalist Georgiy Gongadze, nobody is able to get a conclusion for an investigation that has fingered ex-President Leonid Kuchma, the father-in-law of YES conference founder Victor Pinchuk as the prime suspect. Kuchma denies the allegations. But the case foreshadows what is likely to happen to the investigation into the July 20, 2016 car bombing that killed Ukrainska Pravda journalist Pavel Sheremet: It will likely fail, because Ukraine’s criminal justice system is broken.

[W.Z. For some strange reason, Brian Bonner and other journalists in Ukraine and abroad always highlight the Gongadze murder circa 17Sep2000, but never mention the earlier murders of other journalists during the Kuchma era and earlier. Amongst a multitude of other victims, of particular interest is the torture/murder of  invalid-journalist Volodymyr Katelnytsky and his mother on the night of 07/08Jul1997.]

Don’t take my word for it, believe the nation’s last two prime ministers -- Volodymyr Groysman, the incumbent, and Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the previous one.

Last year, BBC Hard Talk host Stephen Sackur, who moderates panels for Pinchuk, asked Yatsenyuk to name a single “big fish” convicted of corruption. He could not name a single one.

This year, in response to the same question, Groysman also could not name a single case.

“You can’t catch a big fish with a small, thin rod,” Groysman said.

The prime minister since April went on to say that Ukraine had squandered its chance in its first 25 years to create a strong and independent state with well-functioning institutions.

“That chance has unfortunately has been lost,” Groysman said, admitting that “we have a weak court, weak judiciary and other challenges that require solutions.”

Yatsenyuk last year simply begged off responsibility, saying he has no control over judges or prosecutors.

But what is missing from both prime ministers is leadership. If the current system is so broken and the “reforms” are so distant and weak, why not do what other nations have done to combat corruption?

It’s time to do what Guatemala has done, which is to invest legal powers into special courts, investigators and prosecutors overseen by competent professionals, foreign and domestic.

It’s time to borrow a page from Romania and the Baltic nations, which faced Soviet-style (or Eastern Bloc) corruption but managed to combat it.

It’s also time to borrow the transparency and effectiveness of the Nordic countries in keeping crime low -- and those crimes that are committed -- punished.

It’s also time to remove political control over prosecutors, judges and police -- they are not independent -- and to invest ordinary citizens with oversight powers, chiefly but not exclusively through the establishment of a jury system.

But nobody was talking about any of these ideas at Pinchuk’s forum.

While at least the prime ministers have shown up the last two years, neither general prosecutor -- Viktor Shokin or Yuriy Lutsenko -- refused to come.

Shokin, whose obstruction of justice was well-chronicled before President Petro Poroshenko fired him in March 2016, would never be able to justify his actions in a public forum.

More was expected of Poroshenko appointee Lutsenko, who came to power in May. But it appears that Lutsenko was simply too afraid on Sept. 17, 2016 to be on the same panel as anti-corruption crusader and member of parliament Sergii Leshchenko.

Lutsenko appeared at the conference at 1 p.m., as another panel was holding an economic discussion.

Lutsenko also probably didn’t want to sit next to Swedish economist Anders Aslund, who believes that all of Ukraine’s prosecutors and judges should be fired and that the institutions be rebuilt from scratch.

Leshchenko holds Poroshenko responsible for the faltering anti-corruption fight and obstruction of justice.

“I think the main problem is the lack of political will to fight corruption among the Ukrainian leadership. The schemes surrounding state entities and ministers are not possible to implement without protection of the top level,” Leshchenko said, fingering state enterprises as a big source of corrupt riches for insiders at the expense of Ukrainains. “I believe that the president is personally responsible for fight against corruption and 60 percent of society believes president is the responsible for fight against corruption.”

A troika of forces gives Leshchenko his optimism. He said the combined pressure of civil society, independent journalists and Ukraine’s Western friends have been successful in pushing the corrupt oligarchy to make some changes.

It was no wonder that, at the end of the forum entitled “Fighting Corruption,” almost nobody in the room raised their hands when Sackur asked them to do so if they believed that the government is waging a credible and effective fight against corruption.

At this pace, it is more than likely that -- when the 14th annual YES conference roles around next year -- Ukraine will still not have punished any “big fish,” the Gongadze investigation will still go on, the Sheremet murder will be unsolved and that the billions of dollars stolen from Ukraine will not be returned.