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Challenges Await Ukraine Anti-Corruption Agency

FILE - Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko, shown speaking to officials in his office in April, has said he considers all of Ukraine’s high-ranking officials to be potential targets of the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption.

An agency established to fight corruption in Ukraine faces challenges, both within Ukraine’s government and from the country's wealthy oligarchs.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau is empowered to probe alleged misconduct by national and local officials. Its structure was forged last October with the passage of key legislation, much of it pushed by Ukrainian NGOs focused on transparency and better governance.

The law that specifically created the bureau took effect in late January. It gives the bureau the power to begin and conduct investigations, to arrest suspects on court order, and to identify and freeze assets. It also may obtain documents and data from other government agencies, including information about the incomes, assets and expenditures of public officials.

Olena Kifenko of Transparency International-Ukraine told VOA via e-mail that “there are three top priority issues now: current corrupt officials, corrupt officials that were in power during the [Viktor] Yanukovych regime, and effective organization of the bureau’s work.”

Former President Yanukovych, his son and numerous others have been targeted by international Interpol arrest warrants on behalf of the present Ukrainian government. Unfortunately for Kyiv, Yanukovych, his son and others are now living in Russia, which is not expected to give them up.

Sytnyk named leader

Former Kyiv prosecutor Artem Sytynk, 35, was appointed head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau on April 16. He quit his previous job in 2011 out of disgust with Yanukovych and what he called “the criminalization of law enforcement agencies.”

President Petro Poroshenko has said he considers all of Ukraine’s high-ranking officials to be potential targets of the bureau, which, when fully staffed, will comprise about 700 people.

The bureau is not solely focused on public officials; the corporate sector also is under its purview. On April 26, a law went on the books requiring nearly all companies that pursue public contracts and state-owned enterprises above a certain size to institute internal anti-corruption compliance programs. Each entity is required to appoint a compliance officer who will run the program.

Ministry of Justice official Robert Sivers announced on April 27 that the bureau would start its work by midsummer.

Now that the structures and laws are in place, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, in a March report, said the next hurdle for Ukraine would be building upon its commitment to fight corruption.

Political will needed

“The main reason for ineffective investigation and prosecution of corruption in Ukraine,” the report said, is “the lack of genuine political will to tackle systemic and high-level corruption.” The Paris-based group’s report added, “It [Ukraine] made a major breakthrough in anti-corruption policy, legal and institutional reforms. But it has so far failed to deliver convincing results beyond legal reforms.”

The OECD report also said the bureau’s authority and autonomy should be protected. It said Ukraine "should provide a constitutional basis for the functioning of the new independent anti-corruption agency.”

Transparency International-Ukraine said the key now for the National Anti- Corruption Bureau is in identifying and stopping illicit activity. Success, Kifenko said, will depend on how well the bureau is organized.

“The new institution faces a number of complicated tasks and challenges,” Kifenko said. “Putting a corrupt official behind bars or making everyone around afraid of the anti-corruption fight is not a challenge. However, it is a challenge to organize the effective work of this body, [in order] for it to work well.”

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    Jeffrey Young

    Jeffrey Young is a Senior Analyst in VOA’s Global English TV.  He has spent years covering global strategic issues, corruption, the Middle East, and Africa. During most of 2013, he was on special assignment in Baghdad and elsewhere with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).  Previous VOA activities include video journalism and the “Focus” news analysis unit. He also does journalist training overseas for VOA.