Did The Ukrainian Presidential Administration Use Fake News to Deflect Criticism?
5 February, 2018

Last month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank sent letters to the Ukrainian Presidential Administration raising concerns over President Petro Poroshenko’s draft law on the creation of an anti-corruption court for Ukraine. The bill failed to meet key conditions outlined by the organizations, both letters stated.

Soon, however, several Ukrainian publications reported that the leadership of the World Bank and IMF had not approved of the letters. In fact, they claimed, the World Bank had even fired its regional director for sending the critical letter to President Poroshenko.

But that sounded fishy to the journalists at European Pravda, a division of the leading Ukrainska Pravda newspaper. They set about investigating and discovered that these claims were false — and the “fake news” could be traced directly to the Presidential Administration.

The false reports claimed that Poroshenko convinced the international organizations to lower their demands no Ukraine, says European Pravda editor Serhiy Sydorenko. That might be desirable for the Ukrainian authorities, but it simply isn’t true.

In fact, Sydorenko says the Presidential Administration hasn’t even denied its involvement in spreading the rumours.

Hromadske spoke with Serhiy Sydorenko to find out more.

Is it the truth that the Ukrainian government, in particular the administration of the Ukrainian President was trying to spin a fake news story, which would claim that the relations with international partners, in particular the IMF and the World Bank are way better than they are considered and portrayed? And that the leaders of those organizations didn’t really know about the letters their local departments sent to the Ukrainian leadership and that they were not so pushy with the creation of the anti-corruption court? As well as this part, the spin also had said that one of the employees of the World Bank was fired. Later Glavcom apologised for publishing that story but it’s still available in some media, so Serhiy just explain some of the controversy and what did you find out?

I’d like to stress that Glavcom had to apologise only after my article that disclosed the issue. To be frank, when I discovered that on the Glavcom website, I was not so hesitant to publish a disproval of the story because it was completely out of logic, it’s not possible that a regional director of world bank, would direct the letter to Ukrainian authorities without agreeing with Washington. The story itself was completely out of logic.

Especially taking into account that this letter to Ukrainian authorities was published by some media, so the Word Bank chiefs had to have discovered that before.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

We do have these two letters, they were letters from the World Bank sent on January 15th and from IMF sent on January 11th to the President’s Administration, the chairman of the parliament and to a number of politicians. They were pretty tough.

Yeah, quite tough and unexpectedly tough, I would say as for those international financial institutions. Their position was not so surprising because everyone knows that our international partners are demanding from Ukraine to establish an anti corruption court, which is inconsistent with Ukrainian obligations and the one court that would be in line with these conditions of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

Later IMF even confirmed that in official statement of their communication director in Washington. So everything was clear, everything was public and then some Ukrainian media are referring to sources in Presidential Administration, are publishing and accusing that it’s a fake, there were no letters or the letters weren’t consistent with the position of the IMF and World Bank and even some high level people are fired. It was completely out of logic. So first days I was trying to ignore it, but later it appeared that not only those few news outlets, but also leaders of public opinion in social networks started to disburse the story very actively. And saying that, there were no demands to Poroshenko, everything goes fine with the anti-corruption court so Poroshenko’s law is perfect. Then I decided to intervene. It was very easy, I just mailed a request to World Bank and the IMF and immediately within several hours, I got answers from both institutions saying, well guys, we are so happy that you finally asked us one asked us and it’s a complete fake.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

Let’s listen to some quotes from the World Bank and IMF. They have been translated that from Ukrainian, but online you can read the correct and ideal version of those answers.

“The IMF is looking forward to cooperating with the [Ukrainian] government and other international partners to resolve the issues we previously highlighted in the current Anti-Corruption Court draft law and to make it fully compliant with the recommendations from the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe and with [Ukraine’s] responsibilities within [the IMF cooperation] program.”

“The information about Satu Kakhonen’s firing is untrue. It would be better if the mass media checked the veracity of something before sharing it.”

Both institutions confirmed that their positions are remaining as they were and also World Bank had an opportunity to send Satu Kakhonen, their regional director, to one of the TV shows in Ukraine and she confirmed that all these requirements are still there. So, I will explain the key issue. President Poroshenko submitted a draft law on the anti-corruption court to the Verkhovna Rada late last year, but all Ukrainian activists, who are involved in anti-corruption issues have said that this draft law is completely not in line with Ukrainian obligations under this process and they are not in line with the recommendations of our international partners. So, all, not most, all international partners demanded from Poroshenko and from MPs to correct this draft. For me it was very important to show that these demands are still there.

Can we briefly explain what the key issues here are? Is it that the Presidential proposal is less tough on corruption?

So our international partners are demanding to establish an anti-corruption court that would be completely independent in their decisions. So it requires several measures, you have select judges accordingly, you have to guarantee that they are not under influence of political parties and also it’s very important that this court is created immediately, or as soon as possible. So the shortcomings of this Presidential draft was first, that the selection procedure allowed him to appoint judges that he wants. That’s not direct but it does not guarantee independence. And another key issue was that provisions of Presidential draft allowed to not create the court immediately so in fact it allowed to postpone the creation for years, and it was completely unacceptable for all international partners of Ukraine.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE

What is also important, is that in the private, or professional communication with some of the members of the Presidential Administration, our colleagues from Hromadske also received a phone message, while discussing a totally different issue, that it’s not quite clear that story with the letters from IMF that Christine Lagarde didn’t know about those letters sent previously, so we can confirm that this message was coming from the Presidential administration. My final question would be, what was the follow up from the administration of the President after you broke that story? Did they answer you?

No, they did not answer me, because I did not have (anything) to ask them directly because there is no document signed by some people from the administration but it was dispersed via the network of their loyals. This case is unique in Ukrainian history because we have a lot of fakes that are produced by different political forces, not only the Presidential Administration. This was probably the first one when all people related to the story had to apologise that they distributed that fake information. And by the way, the Presidential Administration did not deny that it was behind it.