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 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.
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.