Amid an ongoing pandemic currently spiking throughout the country and amid a growing threat of renewed Russian aggression and more Russian troops mobilizing along its northern, eastern and southern borders, Ukraine has simultaneously been tasked by Western allies with rooting out corruption and graft endemic throughout much of the country.
A recent case illustrates how high that corruption goes, but it also provides a small glimmer of hope that officials at the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) are serious about tackling the issue.
In a story on the front page of this week’s issue of The Weekly, our correspondent in Kyiv, Mark Raczkiewycz, wrote that the brother of the chief justice of the Kyiv Circuit Administrative Court was detained on April 6 while allegedly accepting a $100,000 bribe to secure a favorable court ruling. That individual, Yuriy Zontov, and another lawyer were charged the following day of enriching themselves for their own “illicit gain.”
NABU detectives then found $3.7 million, 840,000 euros, 20,000 British pounds, and 230,000 hrv in cash during searches of the premises of both men. Detectives also found antiques and documents addressed to the chief justice of the Kyiv Circuit Administrative Court, Pavlo Vovk, who is Mr. Zontov’s brother. Both Mr. Zontov and the other lawyer have denied wrongdoing and said the money was for “legal services.”
According to a report in the Financial Times, Mr. Vovk is currently under investigation for allegedly conspiring with 11 fellow judges to gain influence over other courts and government bodies “for purposes of blackmail, as political favors or for kickbacks.” He has failed to appear before Ukraine’s High Anti-Corruption Court four times already.
Meanwhile, in the first call between the leaders of the United States and Ukraine, U.S.
President Joe Biden on April 2 “affirmed the United States’ unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression in the Donbas and Crimea,” per a White House readout of the call. But that support, and the support of other Western democracies, is connected to Ukraine’s success in rooting out corruption.
The White House statement noted that Mr. Biden “emphasized his administration’s commitment to revitalize our strategic partnership in support of President Zelenskyy’s plan to tackle corruption and implement a reform agenda based on our shared democratic values that delivers justice, security and prosperity to the people of Ukraine. The leaders agreed these reforms are central to Ukraine’s Euro-Atlantic aspiration.”
The recent steps taken by the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine described in Mr. Rackiewycz’s story give us a small glimmer of hope that some officials in Ukraine might just be serious about tackling what we believe is Ukraine’s greatest obstacle on its path to becoming a strong, independent, just democratic state. If this is truly the aspiration of all Ukrainians, then together they must root out the corruption that so cripples their society.