On October 14, 2014, the Parliament adopted the Law "On the Prosecutor's Office." It has several important novelties related to the administrative functions of this body, but the main problems, such as pre-trial investigation and supervision of other bodies, are still present, albeit in a slightly truncated form. The Ukrainian Week spoke about the changes that have taken place at the Ukrainian prosecution service over the past year to Sergii Ivanov, former investigating prosecutor with many years of experience. Today, he is a popular blogger and an active participant of the lustration processes underway at the Prosecutor General's Office.
U.W.: What changes, if any, have taken place at the Ukrainian prosecution service over the last year?
- The year after the victory of the Maidan revolution can be considered a year of missed opportunities to reform the prosecution. In fact, no real changes to the system have occurred. The Ukrainian prosecution has not become, as it is in the US, a link between the investigating authorities and the court, where it also would have to represent the state. Instead, it has remained almost on the same ground on which it was established as far back as the reign of Peter the Great, performing the function of the monarch's spies. Unfortunately, despite being independent on paper, it just keeps carrying out orders from the top. Because if a President, as in Russia, says: "I ordered to the Prosecutor," he would have to be brought before court. The Prosecutor General's Office should be an independent body to which people may appeal, but may not give orders. But Poroshenko is walking into the same trap as his predecessors, trying to keep it under his total control.
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U.W.: What was, in your opinion, the first thing that had to be changed at the Prosecutor General's Office?
- In fact, the PGO a year ago had to do several things: combine all cases related to Maidan into one trial, taking all investigations from the police, do the same with respect to all cases of separatism, bring them to court, and proceed to its own reorganization. But unfortunately, our government decided that it still needed the Prosecutor's Office with the old powers, or perhaps in some way with even greater authority than before. Here's an interesting point: Yarema (Vitaliy Yarema is ex-Prosecutor General preceding the current one, Viktor Shokin – Ed.), till his last day in office, lobbied the resumption of the PGO's role as a primary supervisor. Remember how many times he said that he lacked authority? Why? Because, same as in 2005, this body is used as the hammer to slaughter exclusively those who have not come to terms with those in power. Especially in a situation when the police are no longer controlled by the President, and the head of the SBU Valentyn Nalyvaychenko has taken a neutral position. That is why neither Poroshenko nor the prosecutors are in a hurry to get rid of their powers, since the law enforcement bodies are again divided between the various centers of power in the government. The PGO was to be left without its main corruption lever, investigation. However, an important question arises: ok, if it will have no investigative functions, then who will investigate high profile cases? We still don't have a Corruption Bureau, the police are capable of acting only on paper, and professional qualifications of SBU investigators, even at the time of my employment at the Prosecutor's Office, were considered to be the lowest. Today we can see their worth in cases related to separatism, such as the case of Donetsk and Luhansk regional bosses of the Party of Regions. The Prosecutor General's Office must "fall" as a major stronghold of corruption. I am confident that this will happen, because this is simply the public demand in a situation when the prosecutor's title has become a stigma. This means that a complete restaffing is needed. Yes, I understand that we are at war, and this issue may not seem to be pressing, but there are no other options. By the way, the salaries at the Prosecutor's Office and good, so people willing to work there, even for official wages, will always be in large supply. Just one example: the head of a department, chief accountant of the Department of Planning, Accounting, Reporting, Internal Control and Audit of the Prosecutor General's Office, Yerkhova earned about 400,000 UAH in 2013. Assistant accountants earned 270,000 UAH. And they are even not prosecutors. Prosecutors earn even more, absolutely legally.
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U.W.: Let's dwell on personalities. How would you assess the last three Prosecutors General that held this office during the last year?
- Talking about personalities, Vitaliy Yarema came to the Prosecutor's Office having no idea about the specifics of its work. The current PG Viktor Shokin is a true professional who wants to do something, but he's a fossil who wants to increase the preferences for his agency, rather than to bring it in line with the realities of the civilized world. He can "rip and tear," because all of his life he worked as an investigator. In fact, he wants to punish and rap, but is trying to strengthen the position of the Prosecutor's Office without making any changes. Nevertheless, he is under the full control of the President. Oleh Makhnitsky (ex-PG preceding Vitaliy Yarema – Ed.) in fact is a nobody, just forget his name. When he took the post, he basically had to put everyone in jail, but he kept procrastinating and receiving nice money for it, I can say this openly. He was a sort of a Yushchenko of the Ukrainian prosecution service, who killed all hopes for justice by missing the moment when all the trash could have been swept easily out of Ukraine, because the trash was frightened at that point. The most appropriate Prosecutor General in the past 20 years, according to my experiences as an ordinary employee, was, strange as it may sound, Svyatoslav Piskun. He was the only one who really tried to fight bureaucracy at his agency, all those constant business trips and expenditure reports, and so on. He did not allow the prosecution to become a money making enterprise, as Pshonka (Viktor Pshonka, ex-PG under the Yanukovych presidency – Ed.) did.
U.W.: A lot is being said about the Western pressure on Ukraine to implement reforms, primarily of the law enforcement.
- The policy of the Western countries towards reforms is simple: they control them and gradually infiltrate their own people, mostly Georgians. In fact, this gives me hope: they give us money and will hold us accountable for every penny. For instance, they lobbied the candidacy of Eka Zguladze for the Interior Ministry, and David Sakvarelidze for the Prosecutor General's Office. I had a chance to talk to David, and I can say that he makes no secret of the fact that his views on the prosecution service are quite different from Shokin's ideas. He makes a very good impression. The man openly says that he has a year to make changes, and he understands that the main task today is to purge at least the most infamous representatives of the old system. But, unfortunately, his efforts may not be sufficient. The system built at the Prosecutor's Office is totally corrupt and very resistant to changes. If an investigator for some reason does not want to investigate a case, he has all the opportunities not to do it. It won't be easy to fire him, even for the Prosecutor General. The easiest thing for such an investigator would be going to the political party currently under investigation to ask for protection. And then going to the European Court is not a problem. According to Sakvarelidze, the sabotage of changes is overwhelming. That's why the cause of the Georgian team has all chances to fail. Although I personally believe that the Georgians will at least be able to change if not the system then a large part of the staff, which is not bad either. I've had a look at the methodology offered by Sakvarelidze. It sounds right: lustration first, followed by competitive selection.
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U.W.: What is your opinion on the latest high-profile cases and the role of the prosecution in this respect?
- The detention of Bochkovsky and Stoyetsky (Head of the State Emergencies Department Serhiy Bochkovsky and his deputy Vasyl Stoyetsky were detained at a session of the Cabinet of Ministers in front of TV cameras. They are charged with embezzlement of state funds – Ed.) was very questionable from the perspective of the Criminal Procedure Code, because it doesn't provide the grounds for this arrest. This is why the reaction of the Prosecutor General's Office, namely, its refusal to sanction the arrest, is explained not only by the money received for this, but also by the poor work of police investigators. As for Yefremov (ex-leader of the Party of Regions faction in VR, Oleksandr Yefremov, was arrested in February, then released on bail – Ed.), I believe that we are witnessing a rigged game, I mean, he has an agreement with the authorities, who understand that someone needs to be given to the crowd. Therefore, he will either be acquitted or incur some symbolic punishment that will soon be lifted. Charges of "Inciting ethnic hatred" pursuant to Article 358 that are being trumped up have no chances. For me, the question remains – why nobody of his team that is personally responsible for fuelling war and separatism in Luhansk Oblast was arrested, when they were all here in Kyiv. They had to be detained and forced to give up their boss, in return for some kind of a deal. Unfortunately, in most of these cases, big money has already been paid. There are quite a lot of questions even with respect to the murder in Volnovakha of an SBU officer Viktor Mandzyk, because it is still unclear from which gun he was shot, they can't show it to us, and a lot of procedural steps have not been followed, without which the case will not hold water.
Sergii Ivanov is a lawyer, blogger, and opinion journalist. He was born in 1976 in Svatove, Luhansk Oblast. He obtained his degree in law at Volodymyr Dahl East Ukrainian National University. Since 1998, he worked at the Prosecutor's Office of Luhansk Oblast. He resigned in 2008. Today he works as a legal adviser