Top officials still get away with corruption – thanks to Ukrainian courts
Only one in five court rulings on corruption charges against high-ranking officials ends with the person convicted and imprisoned. More often they get off with a fine or suspended sentence. In a number of cases, the defendant was acquitted despite a considerable weight of proof of guilt. Officials sentenced to terms of imprisonment are most often released early.
The research was carried out by Transparency International Ukraine and the Internet publication ‘First Instance’ and based on an analysis of 100 court rulings passed over the last three months under Article 368 of the Criminal Code (gaining illegitimate gains). Of these 21 sentences involved imprisonment; 19 were suspended sentences; 48 were fined and 12 were acquitted. This number of acquittals, it should be noted, is much lower than the percentage for the country as a whole.
The analysts also found that the higher the bribes the officials took, the less likely were their chances of ending up behind bars. The article of the Criminal Code does have different parts, however all envisage the possibility of imprisonment.
The average bribe alleged to have been taken where the suspect was acquitted was 112 thousand UAH. The average bribe where a person got a suspended sentence was 79 thousand. Those who received a real term of imprisonment had, on average, paid 40 thousand UAH.
The nearly 50% who were convicted and fined all paid amounts which were suspiciously close to the amounts the person had taken as a bribe (the average bribe was 16 thousand UAH; the average fine – 20.4 thousand UAH).
Top 10 dubious rulings
The analysts also came up with a ‘top 10’ of dubious court rulings (see the infogram above). They include:
the acquittal of the head of the Vita-Poshtove Village Council who was accused of taking a bribe of 400 thousand UAH;
the acquittal of Petro Melnyk, former dean of the National Tax University in Irpin (Kyiv oblast). Melnyk was arrested in July 2013 and placed under house arrest. He escaped the following month, and was only rearrested in April 2014. The trial took place in the same town where Melnyk has business interests and dragged on for an entire year. He was acquitted in July 2015, with the court finding that there was ‘not enough proof’ that the 120 thousand UAH he was alleged to have received was not a ‘donation’.
Transparency International Ukraine points out that the same article allows for a very broad range of punishments for the same crime. It is quite possible they say that bribes determine what punishment an individual receives.
A clean up of the judiciary, removal of political dependence and simplification of procedure are all needed. A group from the Reanimation Package of Reform have drawn up proposals for reforming the judicial system in Ukraine, however public attention and questions that don’t die away are clearly also needed. Transparency International has called on people to draw attention to “overtly dubious rulings by judges”. It says that public monitoring will make it possible to force Ukrainian courts to pass just rulings and punish those guilty of corruption.
It will, if there is a reaction. For years Ukrainians raged over lawless behaviour by the offspring of officials on the roads, which often resulted in horrific accidents. Publicity did not necessarily lead to criminal prosecutions. It remains to be seen whether there is an adequate response from the authorities to a thoroughly damning report.