The newly chosen Deputy Prosecutor General has generated a lot of buzz, especially with the role he’d played in disclosing the Party of Regions “black ledger” – a crucial piece of evidence about Paul Manafort’s role in Ukraine, working for the Yanukovych administration. But who is he, and what can Ukraine expect from his appointment?
The Anti-Corruption Crusader
Viktor Trepak, 44, has seen his career go from military service, following his graduation from a prestigious Lviv university, to the rarified heights of the Ukrainian State Security Service. His focus, for most of this career, has been anti-corruption. At 25 he joined the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), and 12 years later, in 2012, he taught anti-corruption procedures at his alma mater. This was a stepping stone for his career, as only a year later he was chosen to be the First Deputy Chief for Anti-Corruption and Organized Crimes at the SBU.
It was during his time at the SBU that Trepak gained a reputation for anti-corruption. He was a key figure in the “diamond prosecutor” case – an anti-corruption operation against two prosecutors in the prosecutor-general’s office, Volodymyr Shapakin and Oleksandr Korniyets – so called because of the gems found in the prosecutors’ homes. This brought him into conflict with the “diamond prosecutors'” boss at the time – Viktor Shokin.
Shokin, widely known in Ukraine for being an ineffective and corrupt Prosecutor-General, is currently involved in the ongoing impeachment scandal in the U.S. White House, as the official that Joe Biden was pressuring to fire. However, there is little to no evidence of any connection between Shokin’s firing and the shuttered investigation into the Burisma gas company case, shedding doubt on U.S. lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s claims that Joe Biden called for Shokin’s resignation in order to help his son, Hunter.
However, the “diamond prosecutor” case, despite finding direct evidence of corruption and malfeasance, was never settled successfully, with all charges dropped, while the investigators involved in the matter were later dismissed from their posts. In November of 2015, Trepak sent in a letter of resignation, citing “the inability to conduct the duties of the special task force lawfully charged with combating corruption and organized crime because of the continued tenure of Prosecutor-General of Ukraine Viktor Shokin”, finally leaving his post in April of the following year.
But Trepak wasn’t about to go quietly. In May of 2016, Trepak found himself in possession of the so-called “black ledger” detailing $2 billion of corrupt bribes and payoffs – including to Manafort– belonging to the previous ruling Party of Regions. He passed the ledger to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), which was later leaked to the press.
After his resignation, he went into academia, first at the National Academy of the State Security Services of Ukraine, and then at his alma mater of Ivan Franko National Lviv University, teaching criminal justice and criminology.
His days of politics weren’t behind him, however – he also joined the campaign team of Anatoliy Hrytsenko during the Ukrainian presidential campaign earlier this year.
Trepak himself has commented on his appointment as Ukraine’s number two top cop:
“I see this new position as a unique opportunity to realize my maximum potential and effectiveness for the work I’ve been doing for the last 20 years. Right now, a new law enforcement system for Ukraine is in development, and the prosecutorial system plays a key role in this development. Of course, working as a prosecutor is a new role for me. But I plan to acclimate as quickly as possible, considering that my previous role in law enforcement was directly related to prosecutorial duties.”
The new Prosecutor-General, Rouslan Riaboshapka, similarly has an anti-corruption background, having previously served at the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption, and also resigned in protest of political interference in the agency’s work.
Ukraine’s new top cops have their work cut out for them – to reform the infamously corrupt Ukrainian law enforcement apparatus. And their profiles are in stark contrast to the previous Prosecutor-Generals, with both sporting strong anti-corruption credentials and histories in combating corruption.
But their success will be in large part decided by how well they navigate the institutional corruption and deep-set practices and habits of their predecessors, and whether they’ll be as willing to go after corrupt prosecutors in their office as they were before.
/By Victoria Roshchyna and Romeo Kokriatski