Ukrainian anti-corruption activists gathered in front of Ukraine’s parliament on May 16 to protest against a draft law of amendments to the country’s Criminal Code, fearing the changes will undercut the powers of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine or NABU, and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office, two newly formed anti-corruption agencies.
The draft law, passed by parliament at first reading on April 13, would give more powers to General Prosecutors Office over the NABU, activists said. If it became law, it would allow proceedings conducted by the NABU against high-profile corrupt officials to be terminated, they said.
According to the amendments, law will prohibit the launch of new criminal proceedings and obligate any investigative agency to terminate proceedings if an investigation on a similar case has already been terminated by the agencies in charge of pre-trial investigations, namely the Prosecutor General’s Office and Security Service of Ukraine.
The amendments were proposed by lawmaker Vadym Denysenko, who earlier proposed amending the electronic declaration law by limiting public access to the system and allowing officials not to declare their relatives’ property. Critics saw that as an attempt by Denysenko to sabotage the electronic declarations law.
NABU detectives have been investigating around ten criminal cases that were previously terminated by other law enforcement agencies, and have given notices of suspicion to some 13 persons in relation to them.
The activists said the law could sabotage investigations into high-profile cases, including those of Yuriy Ivaniushchenko, an ex-lawmaker and associate of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, Roman Nasirov, the chief of Ukraine’s Fiscal Service, fugitive lawmaker Oleksandr Onyshchenko, a suspect in an embezzlement case, former lawmaker of the People’s Front faction Mykola Martynenko, accused of corruption, and others.
Even the Prosecutor General’s Office has opposed the amendments, sending a letter to Ukraine’s parliament calling for the law “not to be backed at second reading, as it undermines core principles of criminal justice.”
Activists said the passing of the law would be a “compromise between the ruling parties, who fear an independent anti-corruption body.”
“After Nasirov, Martynenko and Onyshchenko cases, every political force is ready to vote for a law that allows there to be control over the Anti-Corruption Bureau. If adopted, it would be a step back in the fight against corruption in Ukraine,” said activist Kateryna Butko.
The draft law has also raised concern among Ukraine’s western partners. Davide La Cecilia, Italy’s ambassador to Ukraine, tweeted that “G7 Ambassadors (are) concerned about substance of draft law & risk to (the) fight against corruption. Ambassadors believe (that it’s) important to properly consult domestic and international shareholders before considering (the law) in (the) Rada.”
Parliament has included a vote on the amendments on its agenda for May 18.
Meanwhile, during his news conference on May 14, President Petro Poroshenko said he would veto all laws that target the anti-corruption agencies.
“If this (draft) law undermines the work of the (anti-corruption) agencies, I will veto it,” he said.