TOFFICIALS who ruled Ukraine before its revolution in 2014 is said to have stolen billions of dollars. A friend gave Viktor Yanukovych, when he was president, a solid gold loaf of bread. So catching a regional forestry official for a $ 10,000 bribe might seem like a small potato. But the conviction on August 28 of Oleksandr Levkivsky, who faces four years in prison for taking a bribe to get out of public land, is a big problem. Mr. Levkivsky is among the first officials convicted by the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine (HACC), which started working a year ago.
The tribunal was created at the request of the IMF, which demanded an independent anti-corruption mechanism, among other things, in return for the billions of dollars of credit Ukraine needs to keep its economy afloat. the HACC has so far rendered 17 verdicts (almost all guilty), and is hearing many more cases. But after years of theft, many Ukrainians are not satisfied with small fry. They want bigger hooked fish.
the HACCThe 38 judges were selected in a multi-round competition, with the help of international experts. Some of the cases they hear are brought by an anti-corruption prosecutor supervised by the general prosecutor, but others come from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), an independent agency. The judges were prepared to push back the investigators: in Mr. Levkivsky’s case, they dismissed the illegally gathered evidence. “There is no doubt about the professionalism of this court,” says Andrii Borovyk of Transparency International Ukraine, an anti-corruption watchdog.
But the efforts to defeat the transplant are constantly under attack. In August, the Constitutional Court ruled that since the constitution does not give the president the power to choose NABUThe head of the agency, Artem Sytnyk, the respected prosecutor chosen to head the agency in 2015, had been illegally appointed. Mr Sytnyk refuses to resign, saying the move is a retaliatory measure for NABUinvestigations into judicial corruption, but the court has now ruled that NABU itself was established on dubious legal grounds.
It is no coincidence that the pressure is increasing just as the new tribunal is picking up speed, says Vadym Valko, a lawyer who is following closely NABU. Judges are hearing a number of high-profile cases, including those involving the mayor of Odessa and a former tax chief. But reaping small wins, rather than focusing on the big fish to satisfy public pressure, may be a better strategy. “Make sure the due process works,” says Matthew Murray, a former official in Barack Obama’s administration who helped promote HACC. The chief judge of the court, Olena Tanasevych, recently wrote that sometimes “it seems that everyone is dissatisfied”. It can mean that his team is on the right track.
This article appeared in the Europe section of the print edition under the title “Lock up the small fry – for a start”