The president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, has asked Parliament this Friday to remove the judges of the Constitutional Court and annul the sentence that repeals several anti-corruption laws. The magistrates’ ruling, which has triggered social protests and criticism from experts, also withdrew powers from one of the country’s main anti-corruption bodies. Zelenski has assured that the magistrates have acted interestedly and that their ruling, in response to one of the numerous appeals of pro-Russian deputies on the matter, “threatens national security” and puts international economic aid at risk, which international organizations condition the fight against corruption in the eastern country. The President of the High Court, Oleksandr Tupytskyi, has accused the Ukrainian leader of delivering a “constitutional coup” while protests against the magistrates take place at the headquarters of the judicial body in Kiev.
In a ruling known on Thursday, the Ukrainian Constitutional Court ruled that the basic powers of the National Agency for the Prevention of Corruption are illegal. The judges stressed that this organization (NACP) does not have the right to review the wealth declarations of public servants nor to sanction them for presenting false information. In addition, they ruled that these statements, which since 2016 must be available in a mandatory electronic asset register intended to combat bribery, must not be accessible to the public.
Ukrainian anti-corruption bodies and international organizations such as Transparency International have harshly criticized the Constitutional ruling, which they consider a huge blow to Kiev’s efforts to end widespread corruption, a drag that the second poorest country in Europe – after Moldova – tries to fight for years and one of the decisive factors that led Zelenski to the presidency last year with an overwhelming majority.
The Anti-Corruption Action Center (Antac), which unites specialists and experts, has denounced that the ruling of the Ukrainian High Court tries to dismantle the anti-corruption structure that began to develop after the pro-democracy and pro-European mobilizations that ended up overthrowing the pro-Russian president Víktor Yanukovich in 2014. The ruling, highlights Daria Kaleniuk, Antac’s executive director, joins other controversial ones from these same magistrates in response to appeals from pro-Russian parliamentarians, backed by the country’s oligarchs.
Hundreds of people have protested this Friday in front of the Constitutional Court building in the Ukrainian capital and have demanded the resignation of the magistrates. With banners with slogans such as “Corruption Court of Ukraine” or “Take the pigs out of the Constitutional Court”, they have demanded that the judges explain the ruling.
Tupytskyi, the president of the court, has said in a conference that they will not resign at the request of anyone and has assured that the mobilizations and Zelensky’s bill, with which he seeks the dissolution of this judicial body and the election of new robes, it only aims to create an “obedient court.” To try to ease the tension, he has invited the Ukrainian president to a meeting.
Zelenski, who presented his bill this Friday, has asked deputies and senators to reinstate the anti-corruption legislation that the Constitutional Court repealed with its ruling this week. A ruling that defined “worthless.” The Ukrainian Parliament meets next week, but there is no date for the debate on Zelensky’s bill, which some experts consider poorly adjusted to the legislation. However, the Minister of Justice, Denys Maliuska, has stressed that the project can go ahead if Parliament and society support it.
Ukraine is seeking approval for another tranche of a $ 5.5 million loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and both experts and the government fear that these latest concerns about the anti-corruption agenda will delay or drag it down. Organizations like Antac also warn that backward steps in combating Ukraine’s great corruption problem could also jeopardize the visa-free regime with the European Union.