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10 October, 2014  ▪  Olha Vorozhbyt

Giovanni Kessler: “A Comprehensive fight against corruption cannot be confined to single cases, there is a need for an overall strategy to combat fraud and corruption”

The Ukrainian Week met with Giovanni Kessler who is the current Director-General of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF) during his visit to Ukraine. We spoke on the instruments which Ukraine can apply to fight corruption more effectively, possibility of creation of the joint EU-Ukraine body for corruption investigation and the role of OLAF in this process.

U.W.:This is not your first visit to Ukraine this year. You have also been here in March, together with outgoing Commissioner Štefan Füle. What is the purpose of this visit to Ukraine?

The March visit was quite important since it was the visit of two Commissioners. We came to Kyiv to mark the extraordinary effort of the EU and the European Commission to support the new Ukraine. This time I came to have some meetings focused on the substance of anti-corruption efforts which Ukraine is taking and which are supported by the EU. We also discussed what we (the EU and Ukraine) can do together to target and curb corruption and frauds, in particular, when related to the EU funds.

U.W.:Ukrainian president has recently submitted to the parliament a bill to set up the Anti-Corruption Bureau. Have you contributed to this process somehow?

We are very well aware of this new draft. This initiative is very much welcomed by us, but this is a Ukrainian initiative, it's not ours. We did not contribute to the drafting as OLAF. But the EU delegation through their experts have given advice and consultations as the draft was prepared. The EU and the international community have urged Ukraine to take very specific measures to target corruption, there was a general request from our side to take measures. We see this draft as a very important first step in the right direction. But having a good draft is still far from the end. We will see what the Verkhovna Rada does now.

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U.W.:You mentioned that purpose of your visit is connected with the EU funds. Will OLAF be checking whether the money which EU gives as aid to Ukraine is be applied properly?

So far we do not have this power. The association agreement will give OLAF some limited possibility to check this. In any case there is a national responsibility to do this. It is also national interest to make sure that European funds go in the right direction, because if they don’t, then the first who will suffer from this are Ukrainian people. What we propose now is to have a special joint investigative body composed of the representatives of the EU and Ukraine. It will be small one, specialized and independent and it will be based in Ukraine. The body will be able to do criminal investigations on cases of fraud and corruption affecting EU money which arrives to Ukraine. As for now it is just at the stage of proposal and discussion. We will see whether both sides have the political will to do this shortly after the parliamentary election in Ukraine and once the new European Commission begins its work on November 1st. This political will has to be transmitted into the text of agreement to set up the body. If it is decided by the EU and the Ukraine, we are ready to set up this body composed half by Ukrainians, half by representatives of the EU, which will work hand in hand with hopefully newly established Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, but this one will just be focused on the EU. 

The concept behind it is that the EU is taking unprecedented efforts to support Ukraine, so we need unprecedented efforts to also protect it for the interest of the EU, but also for the benefit of the Ukrainian people.

U.W.:Does OLAF contribute somehow to the process of investigation of the illegally transferred by the former Yanukovych regime assets to the EU states which Ukrainian government is developing now in cooperation with the EU governments?

It does indirectly. The asset recovery is regulated by international law, but as a pre-requirement in order to make possible illegal asset recovery to a country, you need strong evidence that there is a crime, namely fraud or corruption. Then you need evidence that the assets which you want to recover are a product of this crime and this is where the real difficulty lies. You do not have the real evidence which connects the money to an established crime. If we can contribute to effective and successful financial investigations which will detect where the money of the crime has gone, it will facilitate the recovery. The idea of setting up this joint Ukraine-international body will help in this regard in two ways. Firstly, this body will be specialized in financial investigation. So, you will benefit on expertise. Secondly, the fact that in the same body with Ukrainian investigators also might be Austrian or Italian representatives will dramatically increase international connection of law enforcement which is now rather weak in Ukraine. If we have a joint Ukrainian-international body, we will benefit from European and international connections which will help investigate these cases of transnational corruption. It will also help detect possible illegal flows of money into Europe.

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U.W.: Speaking about the European experience, which EU instruments could be used in Ukraine in order to make the investigation of corruption more effective?

This investigative body will work under Ukrainian procedural law. It will also report to the competent judicial authorities in Ukraine, so we will not breach the Ukrainian law. The traditional investigation tool which we’re bringing is expertise. Of course, OLAF investigators which might be in this body, are already specialized in connecting the European expenses, funds and loans, and also experts in analysis of money flows and detection of suspicious signals. Ukraine probably does not have such experts who also have expertise working with the EU funds. Plus, if some investigation needs to be developed in a European country, we could count on the cooperation on any national law-enforcement authority.

U.W.: Ukraine has huge domestic corruption. Which mechanisms should it apply to fight corruption when it just emerges?

There are several steps. Broadly speaking, what you need in addition to independent investigations is that people at all levels have to know that if they are engaged in corruption they might be discovered – that being part of a political party or a government authority will not play any role for them in protecting them from prosecution and possible sanctions. This will not prevent the punishment if the evidence is that they committed the crime. So, independent investigation is the first priority. Still, a comprehensive fight against corruption cannot be confined to single cases, there is a need for an overall strategy to combat fraud and corruption. You should start with corruption prevention. You need good transparent administration and good laws, for example on tenders, which make it more difficult to influence, for instance, public tenders and make corruption more easily detectable. Another priority is more education, campaigning. There is a need for a transparency culture. An Anti-Corruption strategy is composed of several measures and steps, especially in cases of systemic corruption, where independent investigation is the essential part, but not the only one.


Bio note:

Giovanni Kessler, 58. Italian prosecutor. He is currently the Director-General of the European Anti-Fraud Office (OLAF). OLAF investigates fraud against the EU budget, corruption and serious misconduct within the European institutions, and develops anti-fraud policy for the European Commission. Mr. Kessler graduated in law at the University of Bologna. From 2006 to 2008 he held the position of Italian High Commissioner to Combat Counterfeiting. Since February 2011 he became Director-General of OLAF  

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