Bitter war erupts between Ukraine’s anti-corruption agencies

President Petro Poroshenko and allies accused of blocking investigations

Protesters  in central Kiev on Sunday demand swifter political change and an end to corruption. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

Protesters in central Kiev on Sunday demand swifter political change and an end to corruption. Photograph: Gleb Garanich/Reuters

 

Ukraine’s prosecutor General Yuri Lutsenko has accused anti-corruption investigators of acting illegally, including through collaboration with the FBI, as the country’s stumbling fight against graft faced the danger of total paralysis.

Reformist deputies and activists accuse Mr Lutsenko and other officials close to Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko of blocking efforts to tackle high-level corruption, which western powers say are vital to their continued support for Kiev.

Mr Lutsenko claimed that national anti-corruption bureau (Nabu) agents were not chosen through the required open competition process; that they use illegally acquired foreign listening equipment; and that they conduct operations with FBI officers without receiving the necessary permission.

“Now I understand the full extent of Nabu’s problems. The whole staff of agents is currently outside the law,” Mr Lutsenko said on Sunday night, describing the investigators as “an illegal group, using illegal methods with illegal equipment.”

In recent weeks, Nabu has opened cases against another anti-corruption agency and Mr Lutsenko, while his office has launched an investigation into whether the head of Nabu leaked classified information.

Last week, Nabu accused Mr Lutsenko’s office and Ukraine’s security service (SBU) of wrecking an investigation when they detained one of its undercover agents as he covertly gathered evidence of alleged bribery in the state migration service.

Bitter conflict

The open and increasingly bitter conflict between law enforcement agencies threatens to make a mockery of Ukraine’s claims to be fighting endemic corruption, which was one of the main triggers for the country’s revolution of February 2014.

Mr Poroshenko and his allies have passed some significant reforms during three years in power, but anti-corruption efforts have been stymied, major cases have languished and no powerful officials or businessmen have been jailed.

Olena Halushka of Ukraine’s anti-corruption action centre said moves by the prosecutor general and SBU against Nabu were not part of “an ‘interagency conflict’ but well planned and orchestrated revenge.”

She said “Nabu’s future is at stake” amid a campaign that was “aimed at blurring the line between new independent and old-style law enforcement agencies, putting them all in one basket.”

Implement reforms

Last week, the EU said it would withhold €600 million in aid from Ukraine due to its failure to implement reforms.

Amid growing public frustration, about 3,000 people protested in Kiev on Sunday to demand swifter change and an end to corruption.

Deputy Serhiy Leshchenko said the “rally is an attempt to restart a country that is slipping into the abyss of corruption, the raw material economy and the emigration of its best people”.

Also on Sunday, activists built a blockade outside the News One television station in Kiev, accusing it of broadcasting pro-Russian views. Mr Poroshenko and other officials urged them to end their protest on Monday.