What are the lessons from Roman Nasirov, head of Ukraine’s State Tax Service, who is facing corruption charges in ordering the delay of a company’s tax payments, costing the state $74 million? There are many.
The case involves state gas producer Ukrgazvydobuvannya and, according to fugitive lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, the allegations are typical of the tax schemes that he links to President Petro Poroshenko in which payments are forgiven in exchange for kickbacks. Onyshchenko has claimed that Poroshenko instructed Nasirov to delay tax payments for natural gas firms in exchange for money to finance Poroshenko’s political projects.
Poroshenko has denied the allegations made by Onyshchenko, who fled after the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine charged him with stealing $64 million from Ukrgazvydobuvannya.
Poroshenko sees the Nasirov case as proof that new anti-corruption institutions are working well and independently. NABU initiated the case.Not quite, Mr. Poroshenko. Contrary to his claims, Poroshenko and his allies have obstructed the work of the bureau – the only law enforcement agency that is not under the control of the president or his allies.
The better lesson is that the new institutions are having a hard time gaining traction because the cases are getting heard by the same old corrupt judges controlled by politicians. Moreover, the best-resourced law enforcement agencies – prosecutor general, Interior Ministry and the Security Service of Ukraine – are doing little to fight corruption.
“There is no better argument for creating an independent anti-corruption court,” Vitaly Shabunin, head of the Anti-Corruption Action Center’s executive board, said at an anti-Nasirov rally on March 5. We not only agree, but we’d go further and say that the entire set of 7,000 judges should be methodically replaced with better qualified and independent ones. Courts are now distrusted by 99 percent of Ukrainians. The tangled pre-trial circus shows judges don’t know how to even move ahead procedurally, let alone preside over justice.
The Nasirov case has revealed the strength of Ukraine’s civil society, which led protests to prevent the court from letting Nasirov flee.
NABU also gets credit for going after a big target. But if the accusations against Nasirov are true, there’s no way he could be acting alone. It’s also unlikely this is an isolated incident. Therein lies another lesson.
Nasirov says he’s determined to fight the charges and clear his name. Bravo. But the likelihood of a fair and public trial in Ukraine’s court is slim.
What we’d like to do is see Nasirov turn state’s evidence and tell what he knows about corrupt tax schemes and who ordered them. He should also publicly dispel the accusations, if false. While he should be entitled to the presumption of innocence, the reality is that he’ll have to prove his innocence. If Nasirov exposes endemic corruption in the tax service, he will make a valuable contribution. Sing, Roman, sing. We’re listening.