By their very definition, anti-corruption agencies are supposed to fight corruption. So what happens when they forget graft and start fighting each other? Ukraine is finding out in the wake of a scandal that may prove a roadblock on its path of European integration.
On November 14, Anna Solomatina, a representative of the National Agency for Preventing Corruption’s financial control department, accused agency director Natalia Korchak of falsifying electronic asset declaration results and blocking some aspects of the organization’s work.
Anna Solomatina. Photo credit: HROMADSKE
She later also accused Ukraine’s Presidential Administration — in particular, lawyer Oleksiy Horashchenkov — of fully controlling the agency’s day-to-day work.
However, the scandal really gained momentum when another government anti-corruption agency, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) got involved and began investigating the case. Many now believe the situation has become an information war between two governmental anti-corruption bodies.
What is NAPC?
The National Agency for Preventing Corruption (NAPC) is a government body that was created in March 2015 to structure and carry out the state’s anti-corruption policies.
Launching NAPC was one of the European Union’s requirements for granting a visa-free travel regime to Ukraine. This year, the visa-free regime finally went into effect.
NAPC’s functions are mainly of preventative nature. Most of its work is concentrated on inspecting the e-declarations of Ukrainian officials. Unlike NAPC, NABU — which was also set up around the same time — can investigate and arrest as well as inspect.
The difference between NAPC and NABU can at times be blurry. However, in general, NAPC mostly performs analytical functions, while NABU performs executive functions, as well as analytical one.
What are the accusations against NAPC?
According to Solomatina, NAPC head Natalia Korchak falsified the results of certain e-declaration inspections, gave direct commands to inspect certain lawmakers and make them look “truthful and honest,” and blocked the transition from manual to automatic inspections.
“I personally received orders from the head of NAPC to fully inspect certain lawmakers and then conclude that they’re ‘honest and truthful’ and that no violations had been found,” Solomatina said.
She also suggested that the agency is not doing a complete job. NAPC was supposed to fully inspect eight lawmakers by May. However, that process has not even started, Solomatina said. What’s more, the representatives of the financial control department were not allowed to inspect the declarations of Ukrainian Supreme Court judges, she added.
Solomatina also accused Ukraine’s Presidential Administration of maintaining total control over NAPC.
“I’ve been summoned to the presidential administration with two of my colleagues,” she said. “They suggested we show all the inspection results to them for consideration first, and only after [show them] to NAPC.”
On November 15, Solomatina added that Oleksiy Horashchenkov, a representative of the Presidential Administration and a former aide to Poroshenko, “directly enforces control over NAPC employees.”
According to Solomatina, electronic declarations are used by NAPC for “covering up officials who are loyal to the government and for the personal enrichment of the NAPC head.”
Solomatina claims that she tried taking her claims to the general prosecutor’s office back in August, but they were returned to her without explanation. In October she took her statement, along with statements from several of her colleagues, to NABU.
Solomatina is calling for Korchak’s removal from the office and for a complete audit of the agency’s work.
What’s the reaction in Ukraine?
The presidential administration has already denied controlling NAPC, while Horashchenkov said on November 15 that he does not have the “authority, means, or time” to do that.
“It is hard for me to judge what motives [Solomatina] had,” he said.
The Presidential Administration press-service told Hromadske that they do not have a “single person involved in the falsification in electronic declarations inspection.”
“The corresponding statement from Anna Solomatina should obviously be analyzed from the perspective of her personal and work-related relationships with the NAPC leadership,” the press service said in a statement.
Later Poroshenko’s spokesman, Svyatoslav Tsegolko, wrote on Twitter that the information war between NAPC and NABU, which “intensified over the last few days,” is “absolutely unacceptable.”
Ruslan Radetskyi, a former NAPC employee, claimed that Solomatina’s words are an “outright lie.”
But Solomatina has strong support from some of Ukraine’s best-known reformist lawmakers, like Mustafa Nayyem, Svitlana Zalishchuk, and Viktor Chumak.
Nayyem — a Poroshenko Bloc lawmaker who is also one of the president’s fiercest critics — called on Ukraine's General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko to carry out an internal investigation and find out why Solomatina’s statements were returned to her.
He also asked NABU to confirm or deny the veracity of the claims about Korchak. NABU subsequently announced that it had started an investigation.
Lawmaker Zalishchuk highlighted the seriousness of these allegations for Ukraine in the broader global context. “If these facts are proven to be true, we risk our European integration,” she said.
Chumak, one of the authors of the law on preventing corruption, called for the Cabinet of Ministers to create a committee to investigate the matter and suspend Korchak for the course of the investigation.
Any international reaction?
So far, only one international organization has reacted to the scandal. Transparency International released two statements on the issue.
The first statement called for the government to protect anti-corruption activists from potential attacks. It referred to previous attacks on activists and investigative journalists that took place in the city of Kharkiv and past reports of such attacks in Poltava and Odesa.
The second statement mirrored Chumak’s words and called for Korchak to be suspended for the duration of the investigation due to her ability to potentially influence the investigation and put pressure on her colleagues.
“We urge [the government] to avoid repeating the mistake of August of 2016, when the lack of professionalism and political dependence of the NAPC management almost sabotaged the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU,” Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, the Executive Director of Transparency International Ukraine, said.
“It was at that moment that the unprofessional work of the head of the NAPC ruined the launch of the electronic declaration system, but the results of the internal investigation of this situation by the Cabinet of Ministers of Ukraine were kept secret from the public, and no personnel decisions were made.”
Wait, what? There was another scandal?
The NAPC scandal comes a few days after a bizarre incident at Korchak’s mother-in-law’s apartment.
As NABU’s official Facebook page reported, on November 10 a NABU detective arrived at the home of Korchak’s mother-in-law, Nadiya Timer-Bulatova, to issue her a summons to an interrogation over potentially false information she provided in her e-declaration.
According to the NABU detective, Timer-Bulatova asked to be interrogated inside her flat instead and invited him to come in. After the interrogation and before signing the protocol, she “called her son, refused to sign the protocol and locked herself and the detective in from inside [the apartment] and hid the key,” the message reads.
NABU accompanied this statement with a video, which appears to show a woman — allegedly Timer-Bulatova herself — claiming that the detective “broke into her home.” Her face is blurred in the video.
The detective’s voice can be heard in the video claiming he is being locked in the flat “against his will” while trying to do his job.
Timer-Bulatova’s daughter-in-law and the Head of NAPC, Korchak, commented on the incident, saying that her mother-in-law mistook the detective for a fraudster.
“He said he’ll ask some questions but then started filling in a previously prepared investigation protocol. He demanded she signs it without letting her read it first. [My] mother-in-law thought he was a fraudster and called her son who in his turn called the police,” Korchak said, adding that this is a violation of Ukrainian laws on investigative actions and interrogations.
Have there been any other controversies involving Korchak?
This is not the first time Korchak has faced criticism. In March, Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman suggested all NAPC employees should resign due to the problems with the registration of electronic declarations.
Korchak rejected the proposal, saying she won’t resign until she “decides that herself.”
“It would be a shame after all the efforts we’ve put into setting up this agency,” she said.
/By Maria Romanenko