One of the most controversial judges of one of Ukraine’s most controversial courts has ordered a criminal case against former U.S. Vice President Joseph Biden.
Judge Serhiy Vovk issued the ruling on April 21, but it only became public on May 21.
Vovk, a judge of Kyiv’s Pechersk Court with a toxic reputation, stated that prosecutors must open a case into Biden’s alleged unlawful interference into the activities of former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin, who was ousted at Biden’s behest in 2016.
The court decision again puts Ukraine at the forefront of a political struggle between Biden, the de facto Democratic nominee in the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election, and his Republican rival, incumbent President Donald Trump.
Trump’s supporters have urged the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden over his activities in Ukraine. Trump himself was impeached in December on charges of abusing office by pushing Ukraine to investigate his political opponent Biden in exchange for military aid.
This is the second investigation opened in Ukraine this week that concerns Biden. Earlier, the Prosecutor General’s Office started an investigation into leaked recordings of Biden’s phone calls with ex-President Petro Poroshenko.
The edited tapes were published by Ukrainian lawmaker Andriy Derkach, who claims they indicate that Biden was giving orders to Poroshenko and inappropriately influencing the Ukrainian leadership. The prosecutors are investigating it as possible high treason.
President Volodymyr Zelensky voiced support for this decision on May 20, calling on law enforcement to investigate the tapes.
On May 19, Derkach released the audio recordings and alleged they showed that Biden and American financier George Soros had exerted undue influence over the Ukrainian government under ex-President Poroshenko in 2016, a common narrative among the anti-Western part of Ukraine’s opposition.
Read more: Ukrainian MP releases Biden-Poroshenko call recordings, spouts absurd conspiracy theory
At the center of the accusations against Biden is a claim that he called for the firing of former Prosecutor General Shokin in order to protect private energy company Burisma Holdings, where Bidens’s son Hunter served on the board of directors in 2014-2019.
However, there is no evidence that Biden’s call for Shokin’s resignation intended to stop an investigation into Burisma.
Biden urged Poroshenko to fire Shokin and threatened to withhold $1 billion in U.S. aid if the prosecutor general kept his job amid repeated calls for Shokin’s resignation by Ukraine’s civil society. Shokin was viewed by anti-corruption activists as an old-guard loyalist who covered up for corruption instead of investigating it.
Moreover, prosecutors under Shokin’s supervision sabotaged a case into Burisma, as ex-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt outlined in a speech on Sept. 24, 2015 in Odesa. No investigation into Burisma ever focused on Biden’s son.
Vovk, who ordered the case against Biden, is a highly controversial figure who has faced accusations of issuing illegal and politically-motivated rulings. He has denied all accusations of wrongdoing.
In 2012, Vovk sentenced then-opposition politician Yuriy Lutsenko to four years in jail in a graft case that has been recognized by European authorities as politically motivated.
In 2015, he was also charged with issuing an unlawful ruling in a separate civil case and temporarily suspended.
In August 2019, Vovk sparked another controversy by upholding a libel lawsuit by former President Viktor Yanukovych’s ex-chief of staff, Andriy Portnov, against the Ukrainian government and ordering the authorities to pay Hr 7 million ($260,000) of taxpayers’ money to Portnov.
In December 2019, Vovk also authorized searches and arrests for several suspects in the case into the murder of journalist Pavel Sheremet in 2016. That case has also proved to be controversial, since prosecutors have presented little evidence of the suspects’ guilt so far.
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