At the Mezhyhirya Festival, which took place at the lavish estate of Ukraine's fugitive ex-president Viktor Yanukovych, Hromadske spoke to investigative journalist Denys Bihus. Instrumental in his investigation of the former president, Bihus recently received a prestigious international award for democracy for his work with the “Nashi Groshi” anticorruption project at Bihus.info.
Hromadske’s Nataliya Gumenyuk spoke to Denys Bihus, 'Nashi Groshi' journalist at the Mezhyhirya Festival near Kyiv on June 10, 2017.
Denys you just received the prestigious international award for democracy that was for the Anti-corruption fighters. You are doing investigating programs here in Ukraine which is extremely popular and I hope to some extent effective. We are speaking about Ukraine in 2017. Investigated journalists from Ukraine still receive the international awards for fighting corruption. What are the key cases— the most important things—in how corruption is done today? Four years ago, when Viktor Yanukovych was still here in Mezhyhirya. It was pretty clear… How is it working now? What has changed and who are really the beneficiaries. How is it working? Which spheres?
Denys Bihus: There is one thing possible to steal— it is people’s money. If you talk about some budget, rules in the country there is just nothing else. I am not sure that now, tactically, we have some different situation than four years ago. That still some public procurement schemes, there are still some monopolies who controlled sectors of economy. The difference is that for now we have something which I call corruption competition. In Yanukovych’s, time there was a solid pyramid of corruption. Any official was in this system. Today we have a lot of parties, groups, that have some competition between them and this is very helpful. It’s not a very optimistic thing but still it is much better than when you have to fight something that is unbreakable.
I want to talk about some particular spheres. Industries. Somehow my guess would be from what I am following, somewhere it’s cleaner, more transparent but that’s where there is less money. In healthcare, there would be small corruption with the people paying but then there would be fields which are still very close….
Denys Bihus: One of the most important moment that transparency by itself—it’s not about corruption. For now, we have a lot of transparent sectors. We think that corruption in this sector is even bigger than before. It’s not true because we just see more. Transparency can’t work without some judicial system. That is the problem for all of us because now we see a lot but still can’t do much. If we talk about industries. I think it is the same. Heavy industry, the bank sector, it is state monopolies, it is Ukrainian Railways as it is. It think we have a better situation in the oil and gas system. I saw smarts steps in Naftogaz, I saw a lot of good steps in the gas sector.
Meaning good steps to become more transparent and less corrupt?
Denys Bihus: That is not about transparency. When we talk about the oil and gas sector, that’s more about smart management decisions. They don’t increase the transparency level; they increase the economic level, and they increase competition in this field.
Are there any particular cases where you have seen that there was the result? That the law enforcement was involved and those whom you were investigating were at least prosecuted and where? Can you give a couple of examples?
Denys Bihus: Last month we pushed three criminal procedures against the Batkivshchyna party, against Lyashko in touch with enrichment and against an official from the tax department. But if we would talked about some results, we have more results when we don’t need to connect with the prosecutor’s office or with the court. If you want to cancel some public procurement, you have to write about it and someone in this department who controls this procurement usually just cancels it because nobody wants any problem. If you need to start any criminal case and add any official investigation that is a problem.
We are here at the former Yanukovych residency Mezhyhirya. There was a lot of enthusiasm when we seen the papers of the previous president there were a lot of journalistic cases, investigations had a good chances to be investigated. It was even a political will by the Ukrainian opposition at that time, it looked like that then to investigate their opponents, former party of Region and the others. In general, how do you see it? You worked on investigations before 2014. I am speaking about high-scale, the top-level officials like Yanukovych, Ivanushenko…
Denys Bihus: We have nothing. At least I can`t see any moves in this way. Actually three days ago, our present officials made a very sweet photo with former officials from Yanukovych’s time. That’s big.
You can’t have their direct link; the president has a connection to that guy from the Party of Regions. I’m talking about high-level officials. They are still political opponents.
Denys Bihus: If all your economy is based on one thousand people— they are always connected to one another. Maybe it’s not so obvious like cofounders in some companies, but Ukrainian economy is not big at all and it is extremely monopolized. In any moment, in any moneybag, have some connection with everyone. I think we can`t look at it as a network of some connections some separate connections but look at is like it is one big bunch of connections and shared money in a very small Ukrainian economy.