45% of Ukrainians will fall below actual poverty level in 2020: study

An elderly woman begging for money in central Kyiv, 2018. Photo by Oleg Petrasiuk

By Igor Kossov

 

Kyiv Post (18.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/3hTa2z2 – Close to half of Ukrainians will experience poverty in 2020, according to a study by the M.V. Ptukha Institute of Demographics and Social Research.

 

Even though the study was published in June 2020, it only recently came to public attention.

 

The study defines poverty as one’s living conditions being below the actual minimum subsistence level, which varies between an average of Hr 3,237 and Hr 3,636 ($115-130) per person during the first nine months of 2019.

 

The “actual” minimum subsistence level defined by the study is much higher than the legally defined average of Hr 2,118 ($75) established in June.

 

The COVID-19 crisis reversed the last few years’ trend of stable or declining poverty, according to the research. By last year’s predictions, the poverty rate was supposed to be 31.2% in 2020.

 

Instead, it will be closer to 45%, which is more than 18 million Ukrainians. This is 6.5 percentage points higher than last year’s poverty rate of 38.5%. It also means a 17% increase in the total number of Ukrainians in poverty.

 

The year 2018 and the first three quarters of 2019 showed a decline in both absolute and relative poverty, meaning that fewer Ukrainians were poor and lower income Ukrainians began to experience better living standards. The institute expected the trend to continue this year.

 

“However, in 2020, events are unfolding in such a way that the achievements of the last three years may be wiped out entirely,” the research paper stated.

 

Lyudmila Cherenko, head of the institute’s living standards department, last week told Ukrainian Radio that the number of people living in poverty has increased by 2 million to 16.5 million Ukrainians just in the first quarter, even before the COVID-19 quarantine was fully implemented.

 

She also warned that the past few decades have seen a stagnation in income distribution, on top of a growing income gap.

 

According to the institute’s survey, 60% of respondents said they had financial losses – 38% had a decline in regular income, 16% lost income entirely and 14% lost their jobs. Households with multiple children have been hit the worst.

 

The results reflect May findings by the Ministry of Social Policy, which also estimated that the poverty rate will increase to 45% in 2020.




UKRAINE: Average salary: 350 EUR – Average pension: 90 EUR

Prime Minister Shmyhal: average wage of UAH 15,000 (450 EUR), average pension of UAH 5,000 (150 EUR) is the goal we must pursue

Ukrinform (05.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2RO2J0Z –  Prime Minister of Ukraine Denys Shmyhal believes that an average wage of UAH 15,000 and an average pension of UAH 5,000 are sufficient for life.

 

“UAH 15,000 is the average wage, and it would be good to have an average pension of at least 30% of it. Speaking specifically, the average wage of UAH 15,000, the average pension of UAH 5,000. This is the goal which we should pursue. Do not take this as a promise, take it as the parameters we are striving for,” Shmyhal said on the air of Ukraina 24 TV Channel, asked what the average wage and the average pension should be in Ukraine to have enough for life.

 

The prime minister noted that today the average wage is UAH 11,000, and the average pension is UAH 3,000.

 

“Probably this is not enough, I would like Ukrainians to receive more decent wages and pensions,” Shmyhal stressed.

 

HRWF Comment

 

One can wonder if such a Prime Minister saying a pension of 150 EUR per month would be sufficient to live deserves his position. This amount is not even sufficient to pay the bills for heating, electricity, water and other utilities.

 

Currently, the average pension is around 90 EUR, much lower than what he says.

 

Poverty of Ukrainian citizens is the price they pay in their daily lives for the unsolved corruption problems in government, parliament, judiciary and business since the independence.




The EU’s approach to Taiwan: Time to move from gratitude to support

By Zsuzsa Anna Ferenczy

 

9DASHLINE (18.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/32Uy6NM – “The European Union thanks Taiwan for its donation of 5.6 million masks to help fight the #coronavirus”, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen tweeted on 2 April. The fight against the global health crisis has offered a unique opportunity for the EU to upgrade its relations with Taiwan, as it rethinks its ties with the People’s Republic of China and seeks to diversify relations in the Indo-Pacific. Cooperation in health security is the right place to progress relations from simple gratitude toward more substantial support for Taiwan’s inclusion in the international community.

 

Through its efficient response to the corona virus pandemic, Taiwan has yet again demonstrated that it can bring an original contribution to the security and stability of the Indo-Pacific, and beyond, to the international community. As of this week, Taiwan has registered 500 confirmed cases and 7 casualties, which brought it international praise as number one in global statistics in containing the virus.

 

Yet, adhering to Beijing’s one-China policy, most often out of fear of upsetting China, the world has ignored the success of the Taiwan Model, downplaying its relevance to global efforts to fight the pandemic. Ironically, in spite of widely shared calls for global cooperation, the place that has been most successful at protecting its people from the disease does not have a seat at the virus talks.

 

Taiwan should not be excluded from global cooperation and response to the pandemic

 

Building on its gratitude towards Taiwan for its provision of medical supplies, the EU and its member states should meaningfully push for Taiwan’s inclusion in international efforts. More importantly, the EU should support Taiwan’s participation in international organisations, its inclusion in the Indo-Pacific debate, and in its own efforts to develop an Indo-Pacific strategy.

 

If given the chance, Taiwan is ready to contribute. But Taiwan must also continue to actively pursue collaboration opportunities with the EU and its member states. The establishment of a comprehensive cooperation framework between the European Commission and member states, and Taiwan would enable the joint funding of research to combat COVID-19.

 

It is clear that both these calls for action raise significant challenges for the EU and its member states, both structurally and politically, in the midst of US-China competition locked in a downward spiral. Yet, if it wants to play a bigger ‘geopolitical’ role in the world, the EU must rethink its approach to Taiwan as it toughens its approach to China.

 

The EU’s ‘One-China policy’ — what about Taiwan?

 

Following its ‘One-China’ policy, the EU does not have diplomatic or formal political relations with Taiwan. And this is certainly how Beijing wants things to stay. Beijing considers Taiwan an inalienable part of China, one of its three most sensitive domestic taboos, along with Tiananmen and Tibet. It therefore comes as no surprise that Chinese President Xi Jinping warned Taiwan that unification is the ultimate goal of any talks over its future.

 

China and the EU are strategic partners locked in an asymmetric relationship, burdened by lack of economic and political reciprocity. The EU has labeled China a systemic rival promoting alternative models of governance. Yet, as a result of the EU’s own structural constraints, member states continue their individual trade and economic — often very lucrative — relations with Beijing. They do so because they can, as sovereign countries, making the EU’s common foreign policy common in name only. This remains the major stumbling block and limits the EU from achieving a united front. The bigger the Chinese investment is in an EU member state, the stronger China’s leverage over that member state has turned out to be.

 

At the same time with maintaining its ‘One-China’ policy, EU leaders made it clear that the EU has an interest in developing closer relations with Taiwan. In fact, the EU is Taiwan’s largest foreign investor and the two consider each other like-minded partners on values such as human rights, democracy and the rule of law. This means that the EU has economic interests in Taiwan, interests that it must protect. But beyond trade, it is closer cooperation with Taiwan in research, climate change and education, that adds value to the EU’s search for like-minded partners in developing its Indo-Pacific strategy and diversifying relationships, as it grapples with China’s rise.

 

Towards an EU Strategy on the Indo-Pacific

 

Today the EU does not have an Indo-Pacific strategy. Yet, interest in the concept of the Indo-Pacific to shape the EU’s geopolitical narrative is growing. This is indicative of the EU’s awareness of a new security and political reality in the region. This requires coordination with such like-minded partners as Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, Singapore, and Taiwan. As the pandemic has demonstrated, the need for the EU to decrease its dependence on China is urgent. A bigger challenge now lies in finding common ground inside a fragmented EU to build a common vision towards the region, one that accommodates member states’ differences and protects the EU’s interests in the region.

 

That France, and more recently Germany, have both developed their own inclusive visions towards the Indo-Pacific is a positive step. For the EU, having two of its founding member states and top traders with China embrace the concept of the Indo-Pacific is deeply significant. In particular, Germany’s move to release its guidelines under its EU Council presidency suggests Berlin could make a real push towards an EU-wide approach to the region. Embracing Taiwan’s democratic model of excellence centered on the respect for human rights with its technologically advanced economy, in addition to its critical geostrategic location off the coast of China can only benefit these efforts.

 

A shifting policy towards China?

 

To assess where the EU currently stands, several recent developments should be considered. The September visit of a 90-member delegation of Czech civic and political leaders to Taiwan can be considered a recognition of Taiwan as a full-fledged democracy, and an invitation for increased cooperation. It could also set a precedent for other EU member states. The visit angered Beijing, with China’s foreign minister warning that Czech senate president Miloš Vystrčil would pay a “heavy price” for the visit. This statement saw his German counterpart Heiko Maas reciprocate and, in turn, warned China against making such threats against a member state.

 

While not much has been achieved at the latest virtual EU-China summit, it allowed the EU side to appear more united and be more assertive towards China. “Europe needs to be a player, not a playing-field”, President Michel stressed. Before the summit, on September 10 a group of 63 Members of the European Parliament addressed a formal letter to Council President Michel, Commission President von der Leyen and German Chancellor Merkel asking them to bring up China’s human rights atrocities at the summit. And, on the eve of the summit, in a joint address several Members of the European Parliament and China experts, and the former German Ambassador to China urged the EU to revisit its one-China policy and support Taiwan.

 

The European Parliament has long called for Taiwan’s “meaningful participation in international organisations, mechanisms and activities”. This should continue more forcefully and through the EU’s foreign policy. Brussels has long used tough words, without meaningful follow up. Managing cooperation with Taiwan for mutual interests while limiting pressure from China will demand a clever approach. It is now up to Brussels to take these calls seriously and consider Taiwan while revisiting its approach to China. It should be particularly helpful that prioritising global engagement is a common EU-Taiwan aspiration. Taiwanese President Tsai’s geopolitical strategy seeks to reinforce existing relationships with allies, with a focus on people-to-people contacts as laid down in the New Southbound Policy.

 

Taiwan can help. Taiwan is helping.

 

Taiwan’s response to the pandemic is built on ‘5 Ts’: transparency, transportation controls, tracking, testing and technology. As such, the pandemic has given Taiwan a critical opportunity to test its commitment to digital democracy under the guidance of Digital Minister Audrey Tang. The public can interact with the government on vTaiwan, an online consultation process for open discussion to build consensus on public policies. Such cooperative strategy has secured the government collaborative trust, a valuable achievement Taiwan can bring to reinforce public health security in the region.

 

Such contributions would complement already existing EU-Taiwan cooperation in research and innovation. It would also add value to the EU’s ongoing cooperation with partners in the Indo-Pacific. The EU and Taiwan face similar societal challenges — ageing societies, sustainable food security, climate change and energy needs. Successful cooperation in the field of ICT, smart industries, 5G and a circular economy between the two sides has occurred through joint business and technological endeavors, such as collaboration sealed in an MOU between Silicon Europe Worldwide and the Taiwan External Trade Development Council (TAITRA).

 

Greater cooperation of this nature would be mutually beneficial: it would help protect Taiwan’s enviable innovation advantage by tackling challenges related to the internationalisation of its innovation firms, while helping the EU strengthen its own innovation agenda. As such, cooperation between Taiwan’s Asia Silicon Valley established in 2016 and Silicon Europe would enhance the startup ecosystem for both side.

 

The EU’s Research and Innovation framework, Horizon 2020, already offers Taiwanese researchers a unique gateway to Europe’s world-leading scientific networks. While previous projects have enjoyed some level of Taiwanese participation  there is still a lot more that can be done to improve research relations. Europe’s participation in the Taipei International Book Exhibition, or the European Film Festival Taiwan (TEFF), as well as the European Education Fair in Taiwan (EEFT) are just a few examples of EU-Taiwan collaboration to further build on.

 

If given the chance, Taiwan is ready to contribute. But Taiwan must also continue to actively pursue collaboration opportunities with the EU and its member states. The establishment of a comprehensive cooperation framework between the European Commission and member states, and Taiwan would enable the joint funding of research to combat COVID-19. This would be a natural follow up to the recent  video conference between EU officials, including the European Economic and Trade Office (EETO) in Taiwan and Taiwan’s top research institute, Academia Sinica. Setting up such a framework would help the two sides move closer, while helping the EU to move up from gratitude to support for Taiwan’s international participation.

 

Finally, Taipei must continue to lobby stakeholder countries in the Indo-Pacific on all levels. But while the US remains Taiwan’s key security ally and a like-minded partner, the EU and Taiwan need to pay more attention to each other. They both need to prioritise the health security of their people. Through the Taiwan Model, Taiwan can help and Taiwan is helping.




UKRAINE: Supreme Court criticizes judicial corruption

– By Oleg Sukhov.

 

Pavlo Vovk, head of the Kyiv Administrative District Court, has become the epitome of corruption for society. He denies the accusations.

 

The Supreme Court on Sept. 18 made a rare statement for Ukraine’s judiciary – one criticizing judicial corruption.

Ukrainian courts and judicial governing bodies have routinely made statements in support of judges and officials who face corruption accusations.

But the Supreme Court went against the trend and lambasted corruption while referring to tapes implicating Judge Pavlo Vovk in corruption and obstruction of justice. Vovk and several other judges of his court were charged by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine in July.

Vovk, head of the Kyiv Administrative District Court, has been protected by numerous top officials and judicial governing bodies, and his case has been blocked. The court of Vovk, who denies the accusations of wrongdoing, has become the epitome of corruption for Ukrainian civil society.

President Volodymyr Zelensky has failed to condemn Vovk’s alleged corruption, claiming that he had no right to interfere.

Statement

“The essence of the tapes caused great damage to the judiciary,” the Supreme Court said. “This poses a risk of serious damage to the values on which an independent and fair judiciary is based and offsets everyday efforts by thousands of judges to increase society’s trust in the courts.”

The court said that “the prestige of the judiciary depends on the actions of every judge.”

“The pillars on which just courts are based are competence, ethics, integrity, zero tolerance for corruption, prevention of external or internal interference, and refusal from personal connections, non-transparent procedures and getting orders (from top officials) by phone,” the court said. “In this situation the plenum of the Supreme Court calls on all judges to demonstrate through all their procedural and non-procedural actions high standards of justice and ethics, independence and objectivity in the issuance of rulings.”

Supreme Court’s integrity

Despite its statement, the Supreme Court’s integrity has also been compromised.

Under ex-President Petro Poroshenko, the High Council of Justice appointed 44 Supreme Court judges who judicial watchdog Public Integrity Council says violated integrity and professional ethics standards. The Public Integrity Council has also accused the High Council of Justice and the High Qualification Commission of effectively rigging the competition for Supreme Court jobs, which they denied.

One of the judges who do not meet integrity standards is the deputy head of the Supreme Court, Bohdan Lvov, according to the Public Integrity Council.

In 2016, Pavlo Grechkivsky, a member of the High Council of Justice, was charged with extorting $500,000 for favorable court rulings with Lvov’s help. Both of them deny the accusations.

Lvov is also under investigation as a potential accomplice in a case in which ex-High Commercial Court Chairman Viktor Tatkov and his deputy Artur Yemelyanov have been charged with issuing unlawful rulings. Lvov has not been officially charged in the case and denies all accusations of wrongdoing.

High council of justice

The Supreme Court’s statement on the Vovk case contrasts with the position of the High Council of Justice, which has done its best to defend Vovk.

In July the council lambasted the NABU for the use of the words “crimes” and “corruption” in the bureau’s statements about the Vovk case, claiming that they violated the presumption of innocence.

On Sept. 1, the council unanimously refused to suspend Vovk and other judges implicated in his case.

In the NABU recordings, Vovk mentioned the involvement of Andrii Ovsiienko, head of the High Council of Justice, and council members Oleh Prudyvus, Pavlo Grechkivsky, Viktor Hryshchuk and Mykola Khudyk in his alleged bargains with the council. They did not respond to requests for comment.

Vovk case

The Prosecutor General’s Office pressed its first charges against Vovk and other judges of his court in August 2019. The judges were then charged with obstructing the work of the High Qualification Commission of Judges, issuing unlawful rulings and unlawfully interfering in the work of other judges.

Kyiv’s Shevchenkivsky Court also helped the judges by rejecting a motion to extend the investigation and ordered the Prosecutor General’s Office to either close the case or send it to trial within five days. The prosecutors did not send it to trial, and the case stalled indefinitely after that.

The NABU resurrected the case in July 2020, charging Vovk and other judges of his court with organized crime, usurpation of power, bribery and unlawful interference with government officials.




Ukrainian MPs endanger independence of key anti-corruption body

– With 239 votes, Ukrainian MPs appointed scandalous and much-criticized members to the commission that will select the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, a key anti-corruption institution.
Article by: Olena Makarenko

Euromaidan Press (18.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2ElIGE0 – On 17 September, Ukrainian MPs voted for a decision that puts international financial support for the country under risk and threatens the independence of a key anti-corruption institution.

In particular, the Parliament voted for the members of the commission which selects the head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Previously, NGOs fighting against corruption, Ukraine’s international partners, as well as pro-democratic politicians pointed at the lack of qualification and integrity among the candidates to the commission suggested by the corresponding parliamentary committee. Still, the majority of the MPs ignored these issues and supported the candidates. European representatives responded by hinting that Ukraine’s visa-free regime with the EU and a EUR 1.5 bn tranche now be up in the air.

Why is the Specialized Anti-Corruption Office so important?

The Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) is a new institution created in 2015 to fight top corruption, together with the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU). While the NABU investigates cases on top-corruption, the SAPO provides procedural supervision for such cases. Afterward, the two direct such cases to the High Anti-Corruption Court, created in 2019. Previously, the top-corruption cases were directed to ordinary courts.
Over the five years of their work, NABU and SAPO directed over 260 cases to courts.

Previously in Ukraine, government top-officials, MPs, and other influencers were considered untouchable. Therefore, before the NABU and the SAPO existence, Ukrainians have never seen investigations on top corruption.

The procedure for selecting the head of the SAPO

The head of the SAPO is selected for five years. The terms of powers of the previous one, Nazar Kholodnytskyi, would have expired in November 2020. However, he resigned two months earlier.

In the process of creation of the SAPO, Ukrainian civil society and politicians together with Ukraine’s international partners focused on how to make the procedure of selection of its head transparent and fair. Otherwise, there was a high chance that those potential corrupts investigated by the NABU and the SAPO would influence the institution through its head.

They arrived at a solution when the head of the SAPO is selected by a Commission consisting of 11 persons. Four out of them are nominated by the Prosecutor’s Council. Seven are nominated by the Parliament.

What is the scandal around the members of the Commission about?

Earlier this year already, the prosecutors nominated their representatives. Society had no questions regarding them – unlike the candidates suggested by the Parliament’s Committee on Law Enforcement.

Previously, the candidates supported by the committee did not find the needed support in the Parliament.
On 17 September, from the third attempt, the MPs finally supported them with 239 votes, despite all the criticisms.

In particular,
• President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party gave 172 votes,
• pro-Russian Opposition Platform for Life – 30,
• For the Future (associated with oligarch Ihor Kolomoyskyi) – 18,
• the group Dovira – 11,
• and independent candidates – 8.

Petro Poroshenko’s European Solidarity, Yuliya Tymoshenko’s Batkivshchyna, and Voice did not give a single voice.

The core of the scandal around the candidates voted in by the parliament concerns their inconsistencies with provisions of the Ukrainian legislation. In particular, the Law on the Prosecutor’s Office says that the members of the commission which select the head of the SAPO have to have “significant experience of activities in the field of preventing and or combating corruption.” Instead, the majority of the members elected from the Parliament don’t have such experience at all. Neither do the members have an impeccable business reputation, high professional and moral qualities, and public credibility, as prescribed by the law.

Also, among the members supported by the Parliament, nobody corresponds to the requirements of being appointed as the head of the commission. According to the law, the commission should be headed by a person from the Parliament’s quota.

Due to all of these inconsistencies with the Ukrainian legislation, Ukraine’s western partners started warning Ukraine on the consequences of the support of the Parliament’s candidates before and after the voting.

What was the reaction of Ukraine’s international partners?

A transparent procedure corresponding to the necessary criteria for selection of the new head of SAPO was one of the conditions for providing a new EUR 600 mn of EU macro-financial support. As well, its violation can launch the process of suspending and canceling the EU visa-free regime.

And the reaction was swift. (See https://bit.ly/2ElIGE0)

Earlier this month, Ambassadors of the G7 published a statement underscoring the importance of merit-based selection processes for heads of anti-corruption institutions:

Also, Gerry Rice, the director of the IMF Communications Department, informed that the development of the IMF’s programs on the financial support of Ukraine will depend on whether the anti-corruption bodies (the NABU, the SAPO, and the Anti-Corruption Court) will manage to preserve their independence.

What did the Servant of the People, the party which gave most of the votes, say?

David Arakhmamia, the head of the Servant of the People faction, told journalists he is not going to react to Viola von Cramon-Taubadel’s statement regarding the possible cancellation of Ukraine’s visa-free regime with the EU and the EUR 1.5 bn tranche.

He said that the EU Association Agreement documents do not mention the SAPO, and that the MEP’s words were rumors: “[The Association Agreement] does not mention the SAPO; it mentions the independence of the anti-corruption structures. This we support and will follow,” Arakhamia said.

Previously, Dmytro Kuleba, the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine stated that there are no threats to visa-free travel between Ukraine and the EU.

What did the President’s Office answer?

Following the voting for the Commission members, the President’s Office also reacted, saying that it took the Parliament’s decision, as well as societal criticism which followed it, into consideration. In a statement, it said that even a strict competition process does not automatically guarantee the independence of the future head of the institution.

“Therefore, we urge all participants of the public debate on the activities of the anti-corruption infrastructure of the state to refrain from excessive emotions, as well as from speculative assessments of the work of specific individuals in administrative positions in anti-corruption bodies. The path on overcoming corruption is also a mandatory component for the European and Euro-Atlantic integration of our country.”

But actually, there are no legal instruments for the President’s Office to influence the Parliament’s decision.

How can this influence the SAPO?

The members of the commission which will select the SAPO head from the Parliament’s quota can promote candidates loyal to some particular political forces.

The head of the SAPO can sabotage cases which means their chances to be considered properly in the court decrease.

SAPO’s previous head, Nazar Kholodnytskyi, was noticed sabotaging cases himself.

Still, in general, the very existence and the work of the SAPO is evaluated positively by Ukrainian anti-corruption NGOs.

“Still, Kholodnytskyi himself is not the SAPO; prosecutors make up the SAPO. I think the majority of prosecutors are ethical,” Vadym Valko, Automaidan NGO lawyer and Secretariat of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau’s Public Control Council analyst says, pointing at the particular investigations into the most corrupt, including MPs, being directed to courts.

Therefore, even in the worst-case scenario, the SAPO will be able to independently work on the cases no matter who is the head for some time.

The competition for the position of the head of the SAPO should be completed by 30 November.




UKRAINE: Fight against corruption: a suspicious silence and inaction of the Prosecutor General

HRWF comment: Another bribe scandal in the parliament sheds light on the mechanisms of corruption interconnecting politics, business and judiciary, the cornerstone of the whole system.

Prosecutor general blocks bribery charges against Zelensky lawmaker

By Oleg Sukhov

Kyiv Post (15.09.2020) – https://bit.ly/2H7xyLP – The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) on Sept. 15 said it had drafted bribery charges against Oleksandr Yurchenko, a lawmaker from President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, and published evidence of the alleged bribery.

 

According to law, charges against Verkhovna Rada members must be approved by the prosecutor general. However, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova said on the same day that there were no grounds for authorizing the charges because she had not seen evidence of bribery in the case materials she had been given.

 

Venediktova and the Prosecutor General’s Office did not respond to requests for comment.

 

Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, said on Facebook that the passage of a law formally abolishing Verkhovna Rada members’ immunity from prosecution in 2019 was a meaningless ploy because a loyalist prosecutor general would always be able to block charges against lawmakers.

 

“Zelensky and Servant of the People deceived us when they shouted about the abolition of lawmakers’ immunity,” Shabunin said. “This is a lie. They made the situation worse than before. Now NABU can’t even investigate a lawmaker without the prosecutor general’s signature. Venediktova not only failed to authorize charges against Yurchenko, but even refused to open a criminal case against him.”

 

Yurchenko said on Sept. 15 that he had left the Servant of the People faction. He did not respond to a request for comment.

 

“We believe this decision is appropriate and hope that Mr. Yurchenko will fully cooperate with NABU and the Prosecutor General’s Office to determine all the objective circumstances,” the President’s Office said in a statement. “Zelensky does not tolerate any manifestation of corruption.”

 

NABU charges

 

NABU said that one of its undercover agents had taken part in an operation that revealed the bribery.

 

As part of the operation, the NABU agent claimed to represent an investor who wanted to build a solid waste processing factory to produce biomass that can be used as an alternative fuel in Ukraine.

 

Yurchenko, a member of the Rada’s energy committee, and his intermediary, Ivan Fishchenko, proposed that the agent give them a bribe to introduce an amendment that would apply the “green tariff” — a higher-than-average tariff for alternative energy bought by the state — to biomass, according to NABU. The bureau published video and audio footage of conversations between the agent, Yurchenko and Fishchenko in July-September 2020.

 

Fishchenko was officially charged as an accomplice to bribery and arrested. His bail was set at Hr 1.5 million ($53,370). He denies the accusations of wrongdoing.

 

He told the NABU detective that he must give $3,000 to him and $10,000 to Yurchenko for submitting the amendment to the Rada, according to Whatsapp correspondence published by the bureau. Later the amendment was submitted.

 

NABU published video footage of the agent giving Fishchenko $13,000.

 

Afterwards, the agent, Fishchenko and Yurchenko also discussed a further bribe for ensuring that the committee and the Rada vote for the amendments. They referred to the monetary sum as “buns” — a term that Fishchenko explained in the recordings.

 

“What should I tell investors: I need to bake a certain number of buns with a certain filling for Sept. 10?” the NABU agent asked.

 

“I think there will be a general banquet,” Yurchenko said. “This will be approximately more than 200 kilograms (an apparent reference to $200,000).”

 

Fishchenko also said that Yurchenko was interested in receiving 3% of the biomass factory’s shares.

 

“I told you that I’m not interested in anything without this story,” Yurchenko said. “I want a piece of this big pie.”

 

Fishchenko also said that Andriy Gerus, head of the Rada’s energy committee, had put Yurchenko in charge of the dealings that he discussed with the NABU agent.

 

Gerus denied this, telling the Kyiv Post that he had blocked Yurchenko’s amendments.

 

“They were not supported by the committee,” he said. “Hence, a logical conclusion: Allegations that I delegated some dealings to him are complete nonsense.”

 

Fishchenko also said that members of the energy committee had been given bribes worth $50,000 each for amendments involving wind energy. Yurchenko corrected him and said each committee member was supposed to be given an $80,000 bribe.

 

Fishchenko said it was better to “corrupt 10” committee members out of 18. Yurchenko added that two more members should be bribed in case of a force majeure — for example, if commission members fail to attend the session.

 

Previous scandal

 

The Yurchenko case is not the fist corruption scandal in Zelensky’s administration.

 

In March, Geo Leros, then a lawmaker with the Servant of the People party, published videos that showed Zelensky’s chief of staff Andriy Yermak’s brother Denys discussing the sale of government jobs.

 

In April, Dmytro Shtanko and Serhii Shumsky, who claimed to be Denys Yermak’s partners in the alleged scheme, said in an interview with the Bihus.Info investigative journalism project that both Yermak brothers had received payments from candidates for state jobs.

 

Previously, the Yermak brothers did not deny the authenticity of the videos, but Denys Yermak claimed they were taken out of context. Andriy Yermak also dismissed the accusations and lashed out at Leros, promising to sue him.

 

The Yermak brothers have not been charged for alleged corruption, and Andriy Yermak remains on the job.

 

Zelensky supported Yermak and called Leros a fraud. On Sept. 1, Leros, who faces a criminal case for allegedly revealing a “state secret”, was expelled from Servant of the People, while Shtanko was arrested in July in a separate fraud case.