Ukraine Graft Battle Intensifies as Protests Target Prosecutors

  • Prosecutors locked in fight with new anti-corruption bureau
  • Two agencies’ heads may meet Wednesday in bid to ease tensions

Tensions between Ukrainian prosecutors and a new agency created to finally address crippling corruption in the former Soviet republic brought hundreds of demonstrators out onto the streets of the capital.

About 500 protesters gathered Wednesday outside the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kiev to show their backing for the Anti-Corruption Bureau, which was formed last year at the behest of international lenders insisting on a meaningful clampdown on graft. Investigations by the bureau, known as NABU, have triggered misconduct accusations from prosecutors, some of whom have found themselves targeted in the probes.

Ukraine’s rulers, who swept to power after the nation’s Russian-backed leader was ousted in 2014, have so far failed to deliver on promises to eradicate graft and curb the sway of big businessmen. Delays in reforms have roiled voters and held up disbursements from a $17.5 billion bailout, prompting President Petro Poroshenko to pick a third chief prosecutor in two years. The country’s corruption ranking at Transparency International has improved only slightly since Poroshenko took charge.

“What we’re seeing is a fight between the old, corrupted, unprofessional system and the new one,” said Vitaliy Kasko, a Transparency International board member and former deputy prosecutor general who quit in February citing stalled reforms and a lack of progress on tackling graft. “The fight was started by the old system as it wants to re-format NABU, which is showing some signs of being independent, angering prosecutors.”

Torture, Beatings

The spat erupted after NABU’s headquarters were searched Aug. 5 by prosecutors following a probe into a $12 million theft linked to a deputy prosecutor in the Kiev region. A week later NABU said two of its investigators were detained illegally and subjected to “physical and psychological pressure,” while prosecutors say their officers were beaten. Both institutions are examining the incidents.

Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, a Poroshenko ally who took the post in May pledging a clean-up of the office, has already faced criticism from civil activists for retaining senior officials suspected of corruption. NABU had 194 cases underway as of late July, 13 percent of which concern prosecutors, according to data on its website.

NABU head Artem Sytnyk, who may meet Lutsenko Wednesday to cool tensions, has sought to play down talk of a conflict.

“There’s no war between the Prosecutor General’s Office and NABU, and there’s no war between Lutsenko and me,” he told a news conference Monday.

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