IMF warns president against legislative attempts to remove Sytnyk
The law enforcement committee of Ukraine’s parliament recommended on Apr. 28 that MPs approve a bill that has as its ultimate aim to dismiss Artem Sytnyk, the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. Bill #3133, which drew the votes of 20 of the committee’s 25 MPs, widens the legal basis for dismissing the bureau’s head to include “corrupt administrative violations.” It was drafted by European Solidarity MP Oleksiy Honcharenko, who argued that “a corrupt official can’t hold a position in an anti-corruption body,” the pravda.com.ua news site said.
In response to the committee’s recommendation, the IMF published a letter on Apr. 29 warning the President’s Office that approving such legislation would threaten IMF cooperation with Ukraine. “As you know, the institutional independence of NABU and its head is a critical part of its effectiveness, which is why they were important elements of previous IMF programs. Any legislative changes that restrict NABU’s independence will be perceived as a withdrawal from prior anti-corruption requirements and will require a correction to any new program,” wrote Ron van Rooden, the lead of the IMF Mission to Ukraine, as reported by the eurointegreration.com.ua news site.
The bill also drew criticism from the Western-financed Anti-Corruption Action Centre, which stressed that the current law doesn’t allow for dismissals based on administrative violations. Applying the conditions of this bill retroactively would violate the Constitution, the Centre said. MPs are seeking to remove Sytnyk for opening criminal investigations into a series of influential players, especially billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, wrote on Apr. 28 Vitaliy Shabunin, the centre’s head.
“Halting IMF cooperation would give Kolomoisky the opportunity to recall Privatbank’s complaints in the U.S., Great Britain and Cyprus. All these cases threaten to deprive the oligarch of his assets. Returning the bank would also give him the possibility to influence the financial system of the entire country and practically hold its hostage,” Shabunin wrote for the pravda.com.ua news site.
Zenon Zawada: This political episode offers several revelations. Honcharenko is among the leading spokesmen for the European Solidarity party, yet his fiery pro-Western rhetoric has suddenly turned cold when it comes to protecting the business interests of both his narrow and wider entourage, as Shabunin has alleged. The lukewarm commitment and hollow rhetoric of former President Poroshenko to rule of law and fighting corruption is now being reflected in the leadership of his political party.
Besides Kolomoisky-aligned MPs and the pro-Putin Opposition Platform faction, Sytnyk’s opponents also include MPs of the anti-IMF Fatherland party, who have defended agri-businessman Oleg Bakhmatyuk in his smear campaign against Sytnyk. Only the neoliberal Voice parliamentary faction, with close ties to Western NGOs, has firmly opposed the bill, with its MPs having submitted 13 alternative bills.
What’s also revealing is the level of fierce opposition by such a wide coalition of MPs to Sytnyk’s criminal investigations, most of which have not come close to reaching criminal charges being filed, let alone court trials being held, despite years of gathering evidence. This demonstrates the nation’s so-called elites are hostile to even the rudimentary processes of a rule of law society.
Given that President Zelensky seems to understand that Ukraine’s entire future as a functioning sovereign nation hangs on the next IMF loan program, we expect he will work to ensure that Sytnyk remains in place to fulfill the remaining two years of his seven-year term. However, given the alleged machinations of his close confidante, SBU Head Bakanov, we can’t be 100% certain that the IMF deal won’t collapse at the last minute for a host of reasons, most of which can be traced to Kolomoisky’s fierce opposition to cooperation.