First Major Anti-Corruption Case in Ukraine, Explained
6 March, 2017

What You Need To Know:

Ukraine’s State Fiscal Service Chief Roman Nasirov was arrested over an alleged embezzlement of approximately $75 million;
Nasirov, who is closely connected to president Poroshenko, is known for antagonizing reformers in the country;
“He was attacking and undermining all possible attempts coming from reformers to change the tax administration and to tax the customs service;”
The arrest of Ukraine’s State Fiscal Service Chief Roman Nasirov over an alleged embezzlement of approximately $75 million is an “extraordinary event in Ukraine,” explains Daria Kaleniuk, Executive Director of the Anticorruption Action Centre. In twenty-five years of Ukrainian Independence, no senior official has received such a notification of suspension. “This is the so-called first big fish,” she adds.

Nasirov, who is closely connected to president Poroshenko, is known for antagonizing reformers in the country. “He was attacking and undermining all possible attempts coming from reformers to change the tax administration and to tax the customs service,” explains Kalenyuk. Furthermore, Nasirov was protecting the traditional corrupt system of taxation in Ukraine, and of the Customs Service.

Nasirov’s detention can be seen as a small victory for the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). However, Kaleniuk says that judges are reluctant to start cases that are filed by NABU: “We still rely on an unreformed judiciary and judges appointed by Yanukovych.”

Hromadske’s guest host Maxim Eristavi spoke to Daria Kaleniuk, Executive Director of the Anticorruption Action Centre during the Sunday Show on March 3d, 2017 in Kyiv.


Ukraine’s State Fiscal Service Chief Roman Nasirov was arrested over an alleged embezzlement of approximately $75 million. Photo: Andriy Kravchenko/POOL/UNIAN

This is quite a shocking development, for not only people abroad, but also for many in Ukraine. Not only for the night of the arrest, but also that this would actually happen. Do you think that this is a good thing? Meaning that we didn't expect it, meaning that the investigation worked well or as some critics point out that the case is put together haphazardly, that there is a huge fear it will fall apart in the coming hours or days?

First of all I would like to emphasis this is an extra ordinary event in Ukraine. For 25 years of independence [in Ukraine] we haven't had a situation when the acting Minister or even a Minister could be issued this level of certification. There have been detentions of senior officials, but this is the first so called "Big Fish" and I am very happy that 'this big fish' happens to be from the Fiscal service of Ukraine [Roman Nasirov].

The reason for that is that there are many questions that have to be put to his agency and the lack of reform of their customs of the tax in Ukraine, so to put it in one simple sentence 'Fiscal Service of Ukraine' continues to be the money laundering machine and the research machine for dirty cash, which is poured into their elections.

But this is a huge victory, or at least symbolic, now, because this again is not the done deal, because the person is not behind bars and there is no development. This could be a done deal for the Anti-Corruption Bureau because this is their first high profile case and their first high profile arrest. Do you think thy have enough resources? We have been hearing about chronic under-staff issues within the bureau. Do you think they will be able to handle this case because this is quite major?

I cannot access the evidence right now as I haven't looked through the case files as yet. However if the case will be dropped or if there are problems with the case, I think the key reason would be the court system [judicial system] the NABU anti-prosecution officers alone cannot convict a person, they cannot arrest or detain a person without permission from the courts. For a month before, when we were monitoring the activity of NABU and their procedures of cases in the courts we see that judges are reluctant to even start hearing the cases developed by NABU.

So they can put cases together and send it to a court and lose a battle in court. 

They can lose a battle in court, not because the case is weak, but because the court is biased of law integrity, the courts are unprotected, the judges are afraid of political pressure, physical pressure including a few other things. Why? we have new people in the new anti-corruption bureau, new detectives and a transparent procedure of selection of them head of NABU. While we have new people in anti-corruption and prosecution and the same transparent selection of special anti-corruption prosecutors, we still rely on an unreformed judiciary system and the judges that were elected by Yanukovych.

Could it be a symbolic victory for the anti-corruption movement, just the whole fact of the arrest, or even that this person lost his job, just because of this development, despite even just because they lose in the court?

It is a very symbolic positive development. One even more important argument and why it is a very important step forward, it is that Nasirov is very closely connected to President Poroshenko. Before he headed the state administration, he was the head of the Customs Committee from the Poroshenko bloc, and before that he was the assistant to one of the members of Parliament of Poroshenko bloc, therefore Nasirov himself appeared to have a very lucrative agency because of the political will of the President of Ukraine.

He antagonized a lot of the reformers by the way the Odessa team in customs were dealing with very corrupt, and were laid off just because of his pressure.

Absolutely, he was attacking and undermining every possible attempt coming from reformers to change them, ie: the tax administration and tax the customs service. Therefore he was simply protecting this very traditional corrupt system of taxation in Ukraine, and of the Customs Service. Disregarding criticism of Nasirov coming from International organizations including IMF, disregarding constant criticism coming from local organizations and institutions and politicians. Our organization “The Corruption Action Center,” filed a case against Nasirov a year ago for not declaring his departments in London. So he is already known to be a very big professional, and very strong protector of corrupt interests with ties to President Poroshenko. For me it's a very positive signal that NABU, once having enough evidence triggered the case and was ready to detain the guy.

It's not huge news, the team of Poroshenko or people close the Presidential Administration there [including the investigative reporting by Hromadske] have exposed ties or accused the corrupt activities, but at this time please help me with my cynicism. We still have a very strong system of this rent seeking between the Oligarchs and the state, the system is corrupt. Some people inside the new government, even in the President's Administration help to sustain this system. How did it happen that a person that is so critically important for that system and who is so close to the President suddenly is faced with this and harassed, if I would be a cynic, I would say that he is not so important to the elites anymore, or do you think that we are seeing a tipping of the balance between the Anti-corruption system finally working.

We are so used to constant mistrust and constant promises coming from law enforcement officials and politicians, we cannot even imagine that it is possible, that there really is an independent agency that can collect enough evidence to trigger a case against a guy with this level as a Minister, And even against the head of the Fiscal Service of Ukraine, Let me give you one example why I think we have a positive scenario, and I think this is a positive case, which indicates that NABU is independent and strong enough and motivated enough to touch the untouchable.

A week ago on Thursday there was an attempt in Parliament to appoint in violation of all sorts of rules and in violation of all standards of transparencies to appoint an auditor of NABU. The only legal way to get rid of Sytnyk [The director of NABU] is to conduct an external audit which would end up with negative conclusions, This kind of audit should be conducted by three auditors, one appointed by Parliament, one by the President and one by Government, so while there had already been a conducted transparent collective competition by the anti-corruption committee in parliament, and backed in December last year, there was a winner in this competition, Robert Storch [the acting deputy of The Inspector General Office of department of Justice] in the United states, suddenly in Parliament appears an unknown British citizen Nigel Brown, who happens to arrive in Ukraine on some private business as he mentioned in Parliament, he found out suddenly that there would be an inspection by NABU. Suddenly appeared in Parliament on that date there was a ward on this issue. It was a clear indication that Poroshenko Bloc jointly with Narodniy Front were trying to gather enough votes, and to quickly vote for this guy as an Auditor, disregarding the fact that there was another guy who was very strongly supported by the US and their Embassy. This candidacy Nigel Brown found out he was a joint candidate of Poroshenko Bloc and Narodniy Front.

In your opinion to undermine the The National Anti-Corruption Bureau?

To get rid of Sytnyk, simply to use the audit as a legal tool to dismiss the current Director of National Corruption, who is ready and willing to trigger cases against those who have very close ties to those corrupt officials including Poroshenko. So I will judge and I would recommend everyone to judge, whether it is political or not and the investigation against Nasirov on the action of Poroshenko and The Poroshenko Bloc in respect to the NABU audit, if they will appoint a really independent auditor who is a strong professional with International experience, it would mean that they support the Independence of NABU, if not it, would mean that [especially the case of Nasirov] is a threat to them, and they are doing whatever they can to get rid of NABU.