Top officials from President’s Office, government and almost all MPs in no rush to return to reporting wealth

16 February, 04:06 PM
At the beginning of the full-scale war, the Council suspended the mandatory electronic declaration of the wealth of officials (Photo:Collage by NV)

At the beginning of the full-scale war, the Council suspended the mandatory electronic declaration of the wealth of officials (Photo:Collage by NV)

Author: Nataliia Rop

At the beginning of Russia’s full-scale invasion the Verkhovna Rada suspended the process of the mandatory submission of electronic declarations by officials. And neither lawmakers nor representatives of the President’s Office are in a rush to bring this practice back.

At the beginning of March 2022, when the Russian army was approaching Kyiv, the parliament made it optional for officials to submit property declarations and their verification by the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAZK). Thus, practically freezing the declaration process: officials were only obliged to declare their property after the end of martial law.

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However, since then, the situation has changed significantly: the Ukrainian army successfully liberated the territory of Kyiv, Chernihiv, Kharkiv and part of Kherson oblasts from the invaders. And for the majority of officials, the objective reasons that could stand in the way of submitting declarations are now gone.

Especially as some of them had time and opportunities to acquire new property in the midst of the war. In particular, a MP from the Servant of the People (SN) Pavlo Khalimon, according to an investigation by NV’s sister publication Ukrainska Pravda, has bought an estate in the Pechersk Hills in the center of Kyiv for UAH 10 million ($270,000).

Another 11 lawmakers of various factions and their family members, according to the Bihus.Info investigation, after Feb. 24, 2022 became the owners of new top-notch cars worth a total of $1.3 million.

Against the background of corruption scandals, specialized public organizations and activists called on the authorities to bring back mandatory asset declarations. After all, its absence contributes to corruption and abuse of power. G7 ambassadors have also publicly urged Ukraine to do so.

However, according to NV’s sources, the Ukrainian parliament does not yet have the votes for such a decision. And according to former National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) director, Artem Sytnyk, who currently works as the deputy head of the NAZK, the structure that verifies such declarations from the parliament alone, only three dozen MPs have voluntarily reported on their property and assets.

“Apparently, lawmakers or other senior officials think that if the (mandatory) declaration (process) is not resumed, then no one can do anything and will not be able to calculate their illegal wealth,” Sytnyk said.

“But it’s not like that.”

One minister and 28 parliamentarians

Sytnyk believes that the beginning of the full-scale war was indeed an objective reason for suspending the submission of declarations and their verification. However, now he does not see any obstacles and arguments against renewing the declaration.

The deputy head of NAZK told NV that those who wish to submit a declaration voluntarily are doing so now. Out of almost 750,000 declarants (officials of various levels), 474,000 people voluntarily reported for 2021 — that is, about 60%.

However, among top officials, the numbers are not so high.

“It is precisely people who do not hold positions associated with increased corruption risks that are filing their declarations,” Sytnyk said.

“But if, for example, we take the government officials, then only one of them, the Minister of Education (out of 22 representatives of the Cabinet of Ministers) has submitted a declaration (Serhiy Shkarlet). Also, no judge from the Constitutional Court has submitted a declaration. And in the Verkhovna Rada, only 28 lawmakers (out of 410) have voluntarily submitted declarations.”

Senior officials from the President’s Office did not report either, said Sytnyk.

Such a picture, according to him, “very clearly shows why the declaration is not being restored.”

“Because the people who are responsible for making these decisions somehow doubt that it should be done,” he said.

A bill stuck in parliament

In fact, the draft law on the restoration of wealth declaration has first been registered in the Rada by the head of the Servant of the People faction Davyd Arakhamia as early as the fall of 2022. The document was successfully reviewed by the parliamentary anti-corruption committee and recommended for adoption in the first reading. However, it remained at the committee level: the draft was never submitted for consideration by parliament.

Anastasiya Radina, member of the Servant of the People faction and head of the anti-corruption committee, explained to NV that there are “not very simple discussions about how to return declarations” in the parliament. According to her, parliamentarians want to take the security situation into account and secure the declaration system from possible “holes”. There are also those who do not want to return to having to make asset declarations.

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Now, according to the head of the committee, the Council does not have the necessary 226 votes to approve the draft law. However, she is not ready to name the figure of how many parliamentarians are ready to support this decision.

“Unfortunately, I cannot say (when the bill will be submitted to the Verkhovna Rada),” says Radina. “I would like the bill to be voted on in the spring at the latest. And, again, we are having a discussion not only within our faction, but also with others.”

Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, an MP from the Holos party and representative of the anti-corruption committee, is convinced that there is simply no political will for this decision. He draws NV’s attention to the fact that now about a dozen lawmakers in one capacity or another are under investigation by NABU for inaccuracies or lies in their electronic declarations.

“Therefore, of course, without a go-ahead from the Office of the President, one should not expect that the law will be adopted, even though it was registered by the head of the president’s faction,” Yurchyshyn said.

In his opinion, only an official demand or communication from the European Union could activate this issue now.

“We know that the Europeans raised the issue of the need to return electronic declaration even at the summit with the European Union, but it was the representatives of Ukraine who convinced us not to include it in the final document of the summit yet,” said Yurchyshyn. “That’s why I don’t see any prospects for restoring (e-declarations) in the near future.”

An influential NV source in the Servant of the People faction agreed with Yurchyshyn’s view that the issue will not move on until there is a demand from the EU. The source noted that it is not in any documents today: “If it is a requirement of the IMF or a condition for receiving money from the European Commission, then (the declaration will be returned).”

Loosening control

Anton Marchuk, an expert from the non-governmental organization Anti-Corruption Center, has said that due to the lack of mandatory declaration during wartime, many officials felt that control over them had weakened. And this could affect how conscientiously and virtuously they performed their functions, he said.

“If we talk about the practical consequences of the fact that declarations are not submitted, they used to be a key tool for detecting cases of illegal enrichment and unjustified assets. It was possible to confiscate such things in civil court proceedings,” Marchuk told NV.

“Accordingly, without declarations, it is now much more difficult to detect these situations, it is much more difficult to collect evidence for such cases, and it is difficult to prosecute for such offenses.”

Sytnyk notes that at the moment there is still one tool left in NAZK that helps control the wealth of officials — the lifestyle monitoring procedure. It consists in comparing the expenditures of officials and their incomes.

“If (there’s a mismatch), then depending on the amount of the discrepancy, criminal liability or a lawsuit is filed in the Anti-Corruption Court,” explains the deputy head of the NAZK. “Thus, assets whose legal origin cannot be proven are (seized) in favor of the state.”

“That is, the processes are not stopped, but returning the declaration would make it possible to carry out financial control more effectively,” says Sytnyk. “At the same time, I would like to note: if someone expects that failure to return the declaration will somehow hide the wealth that someone obtained there illegally, especially during the war, then this is not the case.”

Only at the end of last year, NAZK handed over 22 cases to the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s office for filing lawsuits for the recovery of unsubstantiated assets.

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