In their joint statement on March 7, G7 Ambassadors congratulated Semen Kryvonos on his appointment as the new Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and emphasized that “the Bureau’s performance must be free from any political and other interference, given the vital role it plays in Ukraine’s fight against corruption.”
Kryvonos was appointed by the unanimous decision of the Cabinet of Ministries on March 6. Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal recommended that Kryvonos consider the possibility of appointing the two other candidates for the post, Serhiy Hupiak and Roman Osypchuk, to senior positions in NABU.
The NABU was set up by the special law in 2014 as a Ukrainian law enforcement agency investigating top level corruption and preparing cases for prosecution. Artem Sytnyk was appointed as its first director in 2015 for a seven-year term.
In July 2022, the Cabinet of Ministries initiated an open competition for its successor. Out of 78 applicants, the selection commission chose three candidates and submitted them for the Cabinet’s consideration in March 2023. The appointment of the new Director of NABU has been among EU requirements for starting EU accession negotiations with Ukraine.
Forty-year-old Semen Kryvonos has made a career in the Ukrainian public administration since 2007. At an earlier stage, he worked in territorial offices of the Ministry of Justice in the Odesa and Kyiv regions. In 2015-16, he ran the anti-corruption project “Open Customs Space” as part of the Odesa Customs Service. In 2020-21, he headed the NGO “Office of simple solutions and results” launched by Mikheil Saakashvili to promote reforms in Ukraine.
In 2021-23, Kryvonos headed the State Urban Planning Service, created to cut red tape and eliminate corruption schemes in the construction industry.
A number of leading Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and journalists raised “reasonable doubts about the independence” of Kryvonos, as the Anti-Corruption Action Center put it, intimating indirect connections to Andriy Yermak, President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff.
Presumed subordination of Kryvonos to the Office of the President is the major concern of his critics. He was personally connected to Oleksiy Kuleba, the current Deputy Head of the Presidential Office, according to the Radio Liberty investigative project “Schemes.” Kryvonos’ wife worked with Kuleba when he headed the Kyiv City State Administration.
He has been a “favorite candidate” of the Office of the President, says Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, the First Deputy Head of the Committee on Anti-Corruption Policy of Verkhovna Rada.
Kryvonos’ “close working relations” with Oleksandr Kubrakov, the Vice Prime Minister on Rebuilding Ukraine, has raised concerns at the Civil Oversight Council for NABU. It treated Shmyhal’s “recommendation” as “unacceptable” as “any appointments in NABU (with exception of director’s deputies) must be made through open competitions and with involvement of the Civil Council.”
Concerns clearly stem from the fact that senior public officials are often the primary target of NABU investigations.
During his interview with the selection commission, Kryvonos denying any wrongdoing and insisted that his relations with high ranking public officials were “exclusively professional.” He admitted he has known Kuleba for eight years.