Kador Group




EXCLUSIVE Editor's Choice Interview Corruption

"Parliament Should be Doing a Lot Better in War Conditions" - Senior Lawmaker

Tax Evasion Still Costing Ukraine Billions

Dec. 16, 2022

Yaroslav Zheleznyak, Deputy Head of the Parliamentary Committee on Finance, Tax, and Customs Policy has underlined the fallacy of recent news restrictions on Parliament’s work.

Speaking in an interview with Kyiv Post, Zheleznyak, a lawmaker from the opposition “Holos” faction, also claimed there is not enough political will to deprive former members of the now banned pro-Russian faction of their mandates as their votes are needed by the ruling Servant of the People faction. Zheleznyak also criticized the way the State Customs is managed and the work of the recently-created Economic Security Bureau, part of whose mandate is to combat illicit trade. 

How has the work of Parliament changed since the start of the war? How were the first sittings held? Was there any panic?

There was no panic, but we weren't prepared for the first meeting since the start of Russia’s full-scale war. I clearly remember that day. I was in my car with my colleague at 5 a.m. We reached the point where we should gather after we received information that there was another meeting point.

Was this for security reasons?

Yes. And when we reached the building, there were people from the security services - we said we were going to attend a parliamentary sitting.

They were surprised that we went to Parliament because the speaker and president had decided that voting should take place inside Parliament itself.

All lawmakers were in informal clothes with bags containing all essential documents. I also had all my documents, power banks and keys with me for any eventuality.

The voting was very quick. There was no panic, but everyone was nervous and tried not to show it.

My colleague went to meet the president, but came back and said that the president had been evacuated - it wasn't looking good. After receiving information that there would be no more voting on that day, we were asked to stay close to Kyiv.

Do lawmakers hide in a shelter when air raid sirens are to be heard?

It may not always be the case.

Is it because you’re voting at that time?

There were incidents during voting at the same time as air raid sirens were on.

After we had very unpleasant conversations with various factions, lawmakers were told that they should act in line with parliamentary rules.

According to activists, the transparency of the work of Parliament and its committees has decreased due to security measures and the imposition of martial law. Do you think such actions are justified?

I think this is very stupid. I don't know why we are restricting the information from the public by still having 45 former members of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life faction, that has ties with Russia and confirmation from the Security Service of Ukraine that there are spies in Parliament.

Our enemy is stupid, but not that stupid as not to know when we are holding  sittings of Parliament. The security restrictions don't make any sense.

Only air raid sirens and anti-missile systems can save us from Russian attacks.

In our Committee on Finance, Tax, and Customs Policy, there was a request from several lawmakers to stop online translations of our meetings so as not to provide any information to the enemy.

So we did this, but after the sessions we downloaded the discussion video to YouTube. There are no restrictions to watching this video and everything we discussed. The restrictions don't make any sense to me.

Some former members of the banned pro-Russian party Opposition Platform – For Life are still in Parliament, and have not been stripped of their mandate. Why has Parliament not stripped them of their mandates yet?

The first reason is that they voted in full with the ruling coalition in Parliament. If somebody was to compile statistics, they would see that pro-Russian lawmakers are voting more efficiently than members of the coalition.

They vote in favor of everything and don't create problems for themselves. So that’s 45 votes plus for the Servant of the People faction.

The second question is how to strip them of their mandates. There are three ways to do this.

First, Ukrainian citizenship can be withdrawn. We had an example with Vadym Rabinovich, a member of the Opposition Platform – For Life faction.

He has Israeli citizenship and a few months ago we voted in favor of stripping him of his mandate.

A second reason can be opening of a criminal case and the adoption of a court decision. But even Victor Medverchuk, head of the Opposition Platform – For Life faction, who has been exchanged with Russia for Azov Regiment fighters, is still a member of parliament.

There is also the case of lawmaker Oleksiy Kovalyov, who collaborated with the Russians and probably died while still a lawmaker of the Ukrainian Parliament.

There are five or six draft bills that give Parliament the right to strip the mandates of the former members of banned pro-Russian parties.

However, there isn't the political will, in to do so, because this would reduce the number of votes of the coalition.

Why are they voting with the coalition? Have they become pro-Ukrainian and are no longer  pro-Russian?

If only you had the opportunity to listen to their speeches. They have become more liberal and pro-European than I am.

I remember the speech given by Nestor Shufrych in Parliament regarding the Istanbul Convention. He was so radical on some issues that I felt myself a communist (says sarcastically).

Joking aside, they are voting because they are afraid of going to jail. That is why they will do anything that the Office of the President asks.

Nestor Shufrych, a former member of the pro-Russian Opposition Platform – For Life party, still heads the Committee on Freedom of Speech, though activists are demanding his resignation. Are there any plans to remove him from his post?

Our faction, Holos, put forward such a decision. However, I don’t think it is possible due to the position of the coalition. The good news is that the influence of this committee is close to zero. There are three people on this committee, and I think it should be disbanded.

Please tell us about the work of your committee. What are its priorities and achievements?

The main task in the near-term is to get money to the state budget.

All the revenue that comes into the state budget is spent on military issues – on salaries for our soldiers and buying equipment.

If you compare the revenue coming in for this year and the expenses for next year, they will be equal. We cannot spend all the money we get from our international partners on military needs because there is a certain restriction on this in place.

Unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with the recently-established Economic Security Bureau of Ukraine, which need to be fixed.

Unfortunately, it has not become the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine in the field of economic security.

There is so much fraud, and we lose 10-20 billion hryvnias every month on illegal activities – tobacco, gambling, alcohol trafficking, tax evasion, etc.

The next problem is the Customs Service.

I think the Customs Service is our economy’s biggest problem. We are losing 12-15 billion hryvnias per month due to tax evasion.

There is a lot of evidence of corruption.

Our committee decided that changes need to be made to the management of the Customs Service.

These two institutions cost our country 20 billion hryvnias every single month.

We could have spent this 240 billion hryvnias ($6 bn.) a year on military needs.

Our committee is trying to improve the situation with the Customs Service and fulfill the requirements set out by international financial organizations and the IMF.

Editor’s note: On Wednesday, Dec. 14, Parliament supported the creation of a temporary investigative commission headed by Yaroslav Zheleznyak to investigate possible violations of Ukrainian legislation by officials of the Economic Security Bureau, state authorities and other state bodies exercising powers in the field of economic security, which could lead to a fall in revenue received by the state budget and local budgets.