Kyiv, April 5, 2016. Despite the fact that the fight against corruption was declared a priority task for Ukraine, the volume of corruption has increased over the past two years. The total amount of bribes received by officials in 2015 was 19 million UAH compared to 16 million in 2014. The average bribe has increased from 30 to about 40 thousand UAH – probably, due to the drastic devaluation of the hryvnia. The majority of cases against officials, accused of corruption, resulted in relatively mild penalties. Only a fifth of all the corrupt officials ended up behind the bars, an average serving the term of 4 years and 7 months; 38 percent received probation (on average for 2 years and 2 months), 34 percent were only fined, and 9 percent exculpated under the court decision. Transparency International and journalists of online source on trials “Original Jurisdiction” voiced their research results at a press briefing at Ukraine Crisis Media Center. The research was conducted between March 2014 and February 2016 within the framework of the project “Judges at a Gunpoint”, supported by the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine. During this time, the experts analyzed up to 1,000 cases under Article 368 of the Criminal Code “extortion/receiving improper advantages”. “These are mostly decisions of the court of original jurisdiction, but we have also included decisions of courts of appeal – to understand how loyal courts of different levels are to corruption. We recorded 60 of such courts,” said Fedir Oryschuk, Director of online source on trials “Original Jurisdiction”.
Among those convicted of improper advantage, the majority are law enforcement officials – 14 percent. “The most common type of bribe is the one for closing a case. The second most popular is the one in the land sector – 10 percent of cases. Most officials received bribes for land allocation,” noted Iryna Rybakova, Analyst of Transparency International Ukraine. 8 percent of cases are related to medicine, 7 percent – to science and education, the same number concerned property; 6 percent – tax field. Cases against judges make up only 1 percent. “This is not due to a low level of corruption among judges, but simply because cases against judges rarely reach the courts,” said Ms. Rybakova.
“One of the conclusions that we have arrived at, is that courts do not have a general procedure of punishment for taking bribes,” said Mr. Oryschuk. For example, the biggest term among those sentenced to prison – 9 years out possible 12 – was given to the head of financial investigations department at Kremenchug tax office for a bribe of 500 thousand UAH. Meanwhile, two former deputy mayors of Melitopol ended up with only three-year probation for getting 1.5 million UAH. Similar contradictions were recorded with penalties.
The same fine of 17 thousand UAH was set to one of Ukrzaliznytsia heads for a bribe of around 1,000 UAH, and to a deputy head of stores department of the Transport Derzhspetssluzhba Administration, for a bribe of 25 thousand UAH. “As for the penalties, last year there was an interesting tendency: the average amount of bribes amounted to 22 thousand UAH, and the average amount of fines – 19 thousand UAH. It seems that bribes are growing along with the dollar, but fines do not increase,” said Ms. Rybakova.
Mr. Oryschuk also drew attention to the fact that out of a thousand of analyzed cases about 50-60 had been reclassified in Art.190 “Fraud”, or Art.364 “Power Abuse” under preliminary or judicial investigation. These articles provide a more lenient punishment. For example, a bribe of 67 thousand dollars for granting a land lease threatened an official up to 12 years in prison, but after the case was reclassified in Art.190, he received only three years’ probation. This situation, according to Oleksandr Banchuk, expert of the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, clearly indicates “that investigators, prosecutors, and judges who consider these cases, use the Criminal Procedure Code to manipulate these procedures.”
He noted that of a whole array of criminal proceedings – about 120,000 each year – judges bring in an acquittal only in 0.5 percent cases, whereas in cases over improper advantage an acquittal is brought in every tenth case. “When it happens only in corruption cases, that’s saying a lot,” emphasized the expert. Oleksandr Banchuk also drew attention to the fact that all these cases relate to district or regional officials. “If we analyze the statistics collected by Transparency International, it is as if there were no top corruption. But everyone understands that it is not so,” he noted. In general, concluded Mr. Banchuk, “these sentences and this practice do not form a trend of zero tolerance to corruption.”
In order to improve the trends in the investigation and prosecution of corrupt officials it is necessary to improve legislation – “both in terms of judicial procedures and in terms of procedures relating to the status of judges,” noted Oleksandr Maistrenko, Chief of the Special Actives Department, Judicial Division of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU). Currently, the impossibility to use such a measure as custodial placement of a judge presents a serious obstacle to the investigation. The NABU representatives underline yet another problem – a “leak of information” in the course of the investigation. Because all decisions are immediately registered in the Unified State Register of Court Decisions, the judges under investigation learn about impending measures, for example, searches, and thus have time to cover all the important documents. “Therefore the materials that have been prepared for months are actually lost in a day,” stated Mr. Maistrenko. The experts noted that it would be appropriate to register these decisions after the completion of legal proceedings. According to Mr. Maistrenko, the situation can be improved by the ban to release the suspected judges on bail. At the same time, noted Oleksandr Banchuk, expert of the Center for Political and Legal Reforms, the exclusion of any options of preventive measures other than the detention will lead to complaints to the European Court of Human Rights. IHowever, “there are other very effective measures at this stage of the investigation – twenty-four-hour house arrest with an electronic bracelet, with the withdrawal of the foreign passport and duty to appear daily in the appropriate place determined by the investigator or the prosecutor,” he said.
Oleksandr Maistrenko, noted that over 4 months of work the NABU have opened more than 12 proceedings, which brought suspicions. “8 proceedings in respect of judges, 4 proceedings in respect of officials of the Prosecutor General’s Office and the National Police. Three of them have already been submitted to the court,” informed Oleksandr Maistrenko, Chief of the Special Actives Department, Judicial Division of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine. The smallest bribe appearing in the cases is 800 dollars, the largest one – 500 thousand UAH. The judge Buran of the Malynovsky district court of Odesa is a suspect of receiving it. This proceeding is under preliminary investigation, and suspicion has already been brought to the judge. A profile case in respect of the employees of the prosecutor office and the National Police of Ternopil region will be handed over to the court in May. The first sentences in these cases are expected in late 2016.