The Flame of Hope: Will Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Court Serve Justice?
22 November, 2018

The establishment of the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine seems like a long-awaited miracle for the country’s anti-corruption efforts. If successful, it will mark the completion of anti-corruption reforms that started in 2015.

Ukraine’s international partners have been waiting for the country to finally combat high-profile corruption and create a more predictable and transparent environment in the country. People are hoping it will finally bring crooked politicians to justice, while the corrupt politicians are squirming as they try push forward slippery alternatives in order to make the future court uneffective or to escape its firm hand.

Why does grand corruption in Ukraine have a global significance? How can this cycle of impunity be broken and justice be served to the people in power? And why does the world need the International Anti-Corruption court? To find the answers to these and other questions, Hromadske spoke to Mark Wolf, a Senior United States District Judge who assists Ukraine with establishing a national anti-corruption court. Wolf is also the co-founder of the Integrity Initiatives International, an organization which aims to strengthen the enforcement of criminal laws against corrupt leaders.

Grand corruption is not exclusively a domestic problem, he says. Not only does it destabilize the country itself, but it also affects Ukraine’s partners.

“10 times more is lost to corruption in the developing countries than they receive in foreign aid,” Wolf says.

During the 2016 London anti-corruption summit, the then British Prime Minister David Cameron said that “the world has looked away too much.” And called for the countries to increase international attention to combatting grand corruption.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

According to Wolf, the problem of grand corruption and impunity exists not because of the lack of laws, but because those laws are not enforced in countries controlled by kleptocrats.

“Corrupt leaders control the police, prosecutors and courts and they won’t let proper investigation and prosecution and, if convicted, punishment of themselves, their friends, family and colleagues,” he says.

Wolf suggests a solution – the creation of the International Anti-Corruption court, similar to the current International Criminal Court (ICC). He suggests that the court works along with the national anti-corruption courts on a complementarity principle: it should become a forum for prosecuting corrupt leaders, if their countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute their crimes themselves.

But Ukraine should not be distressed by the International Anti-Corruption court, Wolf says, as he has high expectations for the future High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine.

The establishment of the court was one of the most vital prerequisites for Ukraine to receive the loans from the IMF and the World Bank.

President Petro Poroshenko clearly expects the High Anti-Corruption Court to be established before the upcoming presidential elections to display it as one of the greatest achievements of his administration.

Photo credit: HROMADSKE 

Ukrainian Parliament adopted the law on the High Anti-Corruption Court on June 7, 2018, after almost a year-long battle over its blueprint. The law stipulates that the panel of six international experts review the qualifications of the candidates and have the power to disqualify those who are found to be dishonest. Such crucial role in the selection of judges was the condition by the international donor community.

According to Wolf, assuring that the selection is made from the pool of capable candidates and not those who are corrupt or incompetent is the most vital part of creating an effective court.

Nevertheless, more is needed to end the corruption in Ukraine, he says. “The legislation to create a court is a significant milestone but it’s not the destination.”

To succeed and overcome the old crooked system, there needs to be a triad of equally effective institutions: the investigative one (as represented by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau or NABU), the prosecution (the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office or SAPO) and the judicial (the High Anti-Corruption Court). At the moment NABU and SAPO are experiencing a crisis. Because of the political interest and involvement, top-corruption cases are not being prosecuted properly.

“The chain is only as strong as its weakest link,” says Wolf. “It is crucial that each of those three institutions perform well and that the prosecutor and investigators work honestly and well together.”

Nevertheless, Wolf says, Ukraine – unlike most of the countries that are characterised by grand corruption – has everything to become corruption-free: enormous international interest, civil society, independent journalists and political opposition.

“If it can't be done here, it can't be done anywhere,” Wolf concludes.

/By Mariia Ulianovska