On January 9, a coalition of anti-corruption NGOs in Ukraine rejected almost half of the 113 candidates for the country’s new High Anti-Corruption Court as “questionable.” The move came after the Public Council of International Experts vetoed the first eight candidates for the court a week earlier. The court is a high-stakes international effort to reduce corruption in the Ukraine, and a condition for unlocking the next $2 billion in aid to Kiev from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is slated to open by the end of March.
“Politicians resisted the anti-corruption court for 2.5 years, and now that the competition is underway, the authorities still attempt to appoint judges loyal to them,” said Anastasia Krasnosilska of the Anti-Corruption Action Center (AntAC). The 35 (at minimum) judges for the High Anti-Corruption Court are selected by the High Qualification Commission of Judges, which is part of the Ukrainian judiciary, but receive final approval from the Public Council of International Experts, which is independent from the Ukrainian government. Anti-corruption watchdogs, like the AntAC and Transparency International, fear that the Public Council of International Experts will veto only a few candidates and allow the High Qualification Commission to appoint a politically dependent and dysfunctional court.
The High Anti-Corruption Court, which was approved by the Verkhovna Rada, Ukraine’s parliament, on June 7, 2018, is a unique venture and a clear indication that anti-corruption forces in Ukraine are taking control. The court is designed to have the independence to investigate, prosecute, and convict high-level officials with influence over law enforcement agencies and the judiciary.
In their report Are Ukraine’s Anti-corruption Reforms Working?, Chatham House Associate Fellow John Lough and Senior Economist Vladimir Dubrovskiy have emphasized that “the vicious circle of corruption begins with the power groups that have created and sustained a system in which citizens believe it is impossible to live without corruption.” In the past five years, Ukraine has undertaken significant reforms to address corruption in public life. These efforts have, however, done more to restrict corruption than to bring high-level corrupt officials to justice. Because vested interests have a tremendous influence over the judiciary, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, which was established in 2015, has yet to successfully prosecute a single high-level suspect. This should change after the High Anti-Corruption Court starts its work in the spring. There may be a risk of selective justice, as anti-corruption watchdogs point out. If the Court, however, manages to hold high-level officials accountable, it can play a valuable role in promoting systemic reform in Ukraine.