Artem Sytnyk: “Our task is to break the stereotypes of society accustomed to living in a corrupt environment”
In an exclusive interview with The Ukrainian Week, the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NAB) spoke about fighting corruption in the judiciary, the creation of a “corruption registry”, and its regional management of anti-corruption efforts.
Interviewed by Tetiana Omelchenko
U.W.: You are often questioned about your many years of experience in the prosecutor’s office and the potential that “personal ties” may interfere with your impartiality. To what extent might your past work hinder your current position?
- Frankly, it’s difficult to comment on this nonsense about “personal ties”, and I don’t have time for it. Regarding these “accusations” I would say that, for example, there is a perception in our society that most journalists are corrupt, but you probably disagree with that, right? As for my experience in the prosecutor's office, my name has never been involved in any corruption scandals. I worked for 10 years and when I saw that the fight against corruption was being sidelined (with the advent of Yanukovych regime), I decided to retire.
U.W.: As a former prosecutor, you are well aware of the long-standing rivalry between the prosecutor’s office, the SBU and the Interior Ministry – and the lack of cooperation between these institutions. Will the creation of the NAB become another component added to this rivalry in the law enforcement sector? How can it be rectified?
- Discussions between law enforcement agencies is a normal process, because they have conflicting points of accountability. I can not confirm any facts regarding a rivalry between agencies, as they are not known to me. I would not rule out the possibility that there will be times when another agency will challenge an investigation by the NAB. Some discussion of legal issues between the security forces may occur. This process is not unique to Ukraine. In France there are the police administrative and police judiciaire with similar powers. In the US there are the police and the FBI, among which there is also competition. But this is healthy.
U.W.: Often the results of investigations by the SBU and the General Prosecutor’s Office are undermined by the judiciary. Do you expect NAB initiatives to face the same fate? Can the fight against corruption be thwarted at the level of courts?
- According to sociological surveys, the highest level of corruption takes place in the judiciary. When I was vying for the position of NAB director, I stressed that overcoming corruption in this area would be a priority for NAB. If you compare this with the prosecution, then the lowest-ranked officer whose affairs might be investigated by the NAB is the head of an oblast-level prosecutor’s office. County-level prosecutors do not fall within our jurisdiction. As for the judges, our bureau is considering corruption cases against all of them in case they commit crimes of corruption. That is why I plan to establish a separate unit that will deal exclusively with corruption in the judiciary.
We have announced a competition for the first 100 detective positions, but in general we are planning to have 255 detectives in 6 departments. One of these will focus exclusively on the judiciary. I am sure that if NAB supervises the case all the way through, the risk of judges blocking the adequate verdict will be significantly reduced. And most importantly, if evidence of the defendants’ unequivocal guilt is provided and duly recorded in the criminal proceedings before a court, and the trial itself is supervised properly, then the risk of the judge reaching an unlawful verdict is also much smaller. We will have results, but these will take certain efforts: to restore order to the courts, the prosecution, and the law enforcement system in general.
U.W.:If there is a need to detain a corrupt law enforcement official, which security forces will be involved?
- The NAB has its own fighting unit comprised of 60 officers. It reports to my deputy and will be very important, at least in the first months and years of NAB’s existence. Staff are recruited through open competition. They have a broad range of functions and tasks, including operations to arrest persons suspected of committing corruption offenses, ensuring the safety of participants in NAB criminal proceedings and NAB’s workers themselves, because there will certainly be attempts to exert pressure on them.
U.W.: NAB officers will probably be paid well. Won’t they be resented by the rest of the lower-paid law enforcement agencies?
- This is a question for the legislators. The new police force recently launched in Kyiv is also offering decent salaries. If you read the new law on the prosecutor’s office, the prosecutor’s salary will be five times greater than it is today. Now we’ve generally taken a course toward the proper compensation of law enforcement officials. This is necessary because, for example, the prosecutor's salary of just USD 200 creates a high risk of corruption. When I resigned from the prosecutor's office in 2011, I had a monthly salary of nearly USD 1,000. (At the rate of 8 UAH / USD 1). Since then, earnings have not increased to match the hryvnia’s devaluation. Higher salaries for NAB staff (especially detectives) can eliminate the risk of corruption. Officers will not be forced to look for additional sources of income, and higher salaries will enhance their personal responsibility.
U.W.: Some believe that NAB was only established in order to pander to the wishes of Ukraine’s Western partners, and that a de facto separate anti-corruption body is not necessary. Do the GPU, SBU, and Interior Ministry truly lack the power to combat bribery?
- Anti-Corruption Bureaus exist in Romania, Poland and Latvia, for example, but not in the United States or Georgia (where the prosecution service was successfully reformed). If the existing law enforcement authorities were effective in fighting corruption, there would be no need for the NAB. The task of my administration is to launch the anti-corruption process in order to set other agencies in motion. After all, the 700 employees of NAB alone will not change the government nor overcome corruption. That would be a utopia. However, one of NAB’s most important objectives is to break the stereotypes of society accustomed to living in a corrupt environment.
U.W.: NAB has announced the creation of a “corruption registry”. Is there already a plan for this project or a model based upon countries where similar plans have been implemented?
- The corruption registry exists, but it is somewhat crude and offers no free access. Moreover, it is currently run by a different authority. NAB will have its own registry. We will probably build the registry jointly with the Ministry of Justice based on the principles of openness. The model is simple: detained - proven guilty – put on the list. NAB website will provide all this information.
Our international partners have initiated many interesting programs, including projects for registering perpetrators of corruption. Poland has had positive experience with communications surveillance. NAB plans to have a staff of workers who personally monitor communications, and the Poles have a computer program that does it. That can save worker hours and get more complete and effective information. Polish experts will come to give a presentation on these programs in late June. We will look at their experience and learn to adapt their methods to fit our needs. Ukraine has over 40 national databases, so it takes analysts who work with detectives two days to process them. Our Georgian colleagues have computer programs that reduce the whole process to just 5 minutes. We also plan to implement such a system, but we will need significant financial resources to create this IT-infrastructure.
U.W.: You mentioned the intent to set up seven regional offices in the most corrupt cities. How is this process advancing? What are the most problematic regions? How you see these offices operating?
- Unfortunately, I can’t do everything at once, and NAB still has very limited human resources: just four people. If you take a closer look at the law, you will see that the central management is established first, then the regional offices (actually, NAB headquarters). There, the staff will work with complainants, witnesses, collect information from the public and the mass media. I’m now considering a mobile detective unit in Kyiv, since 70% of the officials being investigated by NAB are located in the capital.
U.W.: In terms of corruption, Ukraine scores 142nd out of 175 countries. Where will it be within a year of your work?
- It is difficult to say. I am a pragmatist and I don’t want to engage in populism. I could tell you that we’ll find ourselves in second place, but that would be insincere. NAB has specific powers, tasks, and deadlines provided by law. I would not like to run headlong into this work without the Bureau first taking form, but the present necessity requires rapid results. However, there are units that take more than a year to form. For example, the SBU must provide the equipment for our secret apparatus. But it will take at least a year for the National Bureau to be established in the form provided by law.
Artem Sytnyk was born in Kirovohrad oblast in 1979 and is a graduate of the Yaroslav Mudriy Law Academy. He worked as an assistant prosecutor in the Leninskiy district of Kirovohrad before becoming an investigator and later senior investigator. Mr. Sytnyk later served as chief of the investigation department of the Kyiv Oblast Prosecutor’s Office, but resigned in 2011 due to “disagreement with the policies of the Yanukovych regime”. He opened 300 criminal cases, including those dealing with corruption. He has worked as a lawyer beginning in 2011, and on April 16, 2015 was appointed the first Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine