Ukrainian Volodymyr Zelenskyy steps up crackdown on corruption, one oligarch at a time

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy made headlines in Ukraine recently when he submitted a new bill to parliament that he says will target the oligarchs.

It targets the Ukrainian oligarchs who have built “political, economic and media influence”. The president wants to create an official list of the country’s oligarchs and, among other things, ban them from making direct or indirect donations to political parties. But it does not stop there.

“We are building a country without oligarchs … A country for forty million citizens, not for a hundred Forbes. A country where the state really helps businesses and big business does not live at the expense of the state budget “Zelenskyy said. underlined in a recent speech.

He added that he “is building a country that does not just wait for the sanctions policy of other states” and said he was ready to act. We don’t know who will be on the list.

But the move could help Ukraine in its efforts to join NATO, with President Joe Biden commenting last week that corruption was a specific “stumbling block” for Kiev to join the alliance.

What are the criteria ?

Anyone meeting three of the following four criteria will be on the list if the bill passes:

• participation in political activities

• ownership of assets exceeding 2.2 billion hryvnias ($ 81 million)

• considerable media influence

• be the beneficiary of monopolies

Too much or too little?

Ukrainian oligarchs have built vast business empires and power networks since the fall of the Soviet Union and Ukraine’s independence. They have been accused of controlling large swathes of the country’s economy and of having enormous influence over politics, economy and society.

But the bill has been criticized for going too far by some and for being too weak by others. Aleksey Jakubin, associate professor at the Kyiv Polytechnic Institute, told Euronews that some criticize the bill for not being concrete about the meaning of media and political influence.

“Some people see the president’s current actions as pure public relations, but others fear that Zelenskys is going too far and not respecting the constitution,” Aleksey Jakubin, associate professor at the Polytechnic Institute, told Euronews. Kiev.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of Ukrainians who could meet the criteria of the new bill, and it makes people nervous that Zelenskyy is only targeting certain oligarchs and not others.”

The Medvedchuk case

The new bill comes after a high-profile case in Ukraine, showing the government’s willingness to act.

In May, Attorney General Iryna Venediktova indicted an allegedly pro-Russian member of the Ukrainian parliament, Viktor Medvedchuk, with “high treason for providing information to Russia and attempting to steal national resources in Crimea,” which Russia claimed. annexed in 2014.

Medvedchuk is one of the most powerful men in Ukraine, and he is often referred to as an oligarch by Ukrainian media.

Medvedchuk himself has taken his lawyer’s advice not to comment on Euronews, but Oleg Voloshyn, a member of the Ukrainian parliament from the same party as Medvedchuk – Opposition Platform – For Life – has expressed concern.

He said the case against Medvedchuk is Zelenskyy’s attempt to eliminate a political opponent through a populist movement and that the recent desoligarchization bill, if passed in parliament, will give Zelenskyy the tools to pursue his political opponents, which will be dangerous. .

“What Zelenskyy is doing now is not getting rid of the oligarchs and competing fairly, but subordinating or substituting them for others,” Voloshyn told Euronews.

“To fight the oligarchs you have to change the rules, not the people. The oligarchs are a symbol (of problems), and you must fight them by creating equal rules and competition. “

The problem with building a list of oligarchs, according to Voloshyn, is that there will always be skepticism as to why specific names are included and others are not. He fears that Zelenskyy will attack political opponents and protect his own people.

“The list of oligarchs is made in such a way as to show that there is a fight. But the oligarchs of tomorrow could perhaps be Zelenskyy himself or a member of his team, ”Voloshyn said.

Several steps to come

Euronews reached out to Zelenskyy’s press secretary, Iuliia Mendel, for comment, but she had not responded until the publication.

However, in a statement to the Kyiv Post, Mykhailo Podolyak, an aide to Zelenskyy’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak, recently said that Zelenskyy’s new bill was important because “before Volodymyr Zelenskyy, no one in Ukrainian politics tried to take such measures aimed at legally defining the phenomenon (oligarch) and later the dismantling of the oligarchic system.

Podolyak argues that the bill is necessary because “the oligarchs and their affiliates have long held a special position in our politics and our economy” and could “blackmail the state through their mechanisms and seize public resources ”.

Zelenskyy was elected president in 2019, promising large-scale market reforms and fighting corruption, including the oligarchy.

In 2020, Zelensky was criticized by international organizations such as the International Monetary Fund and the IMF for not doing enough to stop corruption and reforms. The Desoligarchization Bill may be another attempt at reform.

Petro Poroshenko is the leader of the European Solidarity Party and was the President of Ukraine before Zelenskyy.

In an email to Euronews, the European Solidarity Party wrote that it supports the government’s vision of a future without corruption. However, the focus should be on reforms and not on specific individuals.

“He (Zelenskyy) wants to impose on Ukraine the supremacy of the rule of the president instead of the rule of law. All this leads to ruin the confidence of international partners, and it is very dangerous, ”wrote the European Solidarity Party in the e-mail.

The party is concerned that Zelenskyy is going too far in his fight against certain oligarchs, where some voices say Poroshenko, who was indicted in an abuse of power case last year, could be next on the list.

Poroshenko owns TV channels and is the third richest person in Ukraine. His party argues that Zelensky should focus more on reforms such as the judiciary and strengthening anti-corruption bodies instead of targeting individuals.

“The fight should not be a smokescreen for undemocratic aspirations: persecute political opponents, cut off freedom of speech and the media, start a witch hunt,” the party wrote and arguing that any attempt to target Poroshenko under the new bill would be an “attempt to follow the example of Russia or Belarus in installing a dictatorship, targeting political opponents.”

The fight before the Constitutional Court

Jakubin told Euronews that the opposition’s criticisms are not without merit because Zelenskyy has taken far-reaching steps in recent months to change the system. One example came in March, when Zelenskyy removed two judges from Ukraine’s Constitutional Court after the court ruled against some anti-corruption laws in Ukraine.

The government decree signed by Zelenskyy said the judges “threaten the independence and national security of Ukraine, which violates the constitution, human and civil rights and freedoms” and threatens anti-corruption reforms of the Ukraine and confidence in Ukraine.

Ukrainian justice has long been accused of corruption and inefficiency. The Venice Commission, an advisory body of the Council of Europe, also criticized the Constitutional Court in Ukraine, but the Commission however also underlined that the independence or the role of the Court must be respected. The question for many is whether Zelenskyy respected the constitution. He dismissed the two judges Oleksandr Tupytskiy, then president of the Constitutional Court, and Oleksandr Kasminin by a decree, canceling their appointment by former president Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted in 2014.

The Ukrainian constitution stipulates that judges of the Constitutional Court are appointed by the incumbent president, but can then only be removed from office by the Constitutional Court itself. This can happen if two-thirds of the tribunal’s judges vote in its favor.

Euronews spoke to Tupytskiy, the former president, who denied being corrupt. He called his dismissal unconstitutional and said the Constitutional Court only reviews laws and reforms in accordance with the country’s constitution.

“As a judge, I think the president’s activity indicates that he is trying to control the Constitutional Court of Ukraine,” Tupytskiy told Euronews, adding that this sends a strong signal to judges across the country that the president can revoke you. if you act against him.

Jakubin told Euronews that the case with the Constitutional Court is not the only place where people are concerned about the use of power by the president. He also points out how Zelenskyy appears to be trying to control anti-corruption bodies and institutions.

“Maybe Zelenskyy just wants a change. Maybe his wishes or dreams are good, but the tools he uses are another thing. There are real concerns here, ”says Jakubin, who is an expert on Ukrainian politics,“… In my opinion, Zelenskyy wants to have his own influence on the whole system; maybe he doesn’t want the systems to be completely independent.

Zelenskyy has reached, says the deputy

Halyna Yanchenko is an MP for Zelensky’s Party, Servant of the People, and deputy head of the Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy. She disagreed with the critics and told Euronews that Zelenskyy had done several good things to reform the country. He lifted parliamentary immunity so that politicians could be prosecuted for crimes and was responsible for passing the so-called “banking law”, which prevented the oligarch Ihor Kolomoisky from taking back control of the PrivatBank now nationalized. The bank was nationalized in 2016 when an investigation revealed a capital shortfall of around $ 5.65 billion.

“The president cannot wait ten years to get results, and the company will not let the president wait ten years…”, said Yanchenko, “the team (Zelenskyy’s) is working in two parallel directions, the legislation is changing to make the whole favorable systematic changes. The screening of law enforcement and prosecution, but also the search for tools to give quick results and the feeling that there is justice in this country.

She said that “the president has little tolerance for oligarchs” and that the government has also decided to increase taxes on natural resources such as iron ore (which is used to make steel) to remove the competitive advantages of certain businessmen or oligarchs.


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