Ukrain’s two main law enforcement agencies – the Prosecutor General’s Office and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) – have found themselves locked in a bitter conflict over the past few days that threatens to tarnish the country’s image among its Western backers.
“The Prosecutor General’s Office has detained two technical NABU employees, who conducted undercover investigations... They were detained for 11 hours. There is evidence that they were under physical and psychological pressures,” the head of NABU, Artem Sytnyk, told journalists on August 15, describing an incident that happened three days ago in Kyiv.
According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the NABU agents were engaged in illegal surveillance from a set-up near their offices. However, special police forces with the NABU arrived to free them, leading to a physical clash between representatives of the two institutions, in which three Prosecutor General employees were allegedly assaulted and injured, Volodymyr Hutsuliak, director of the economic investigations department of the Prosecutor General’s Office said on August 13.
The conflict followed a controversial raid of the NABU’s headquarters by the Prosecutor General’s Office under a court-approved search warrant in a case related to the unauthorised wiretapping of phone conversations between suspects in a criminal investigation being conducted by the NABU. Ukrainian reformist lawmakers and public activists immediately slammed the move as an attempt to blackmail the NABU, an independent institution, which was created with the aim of fighting high-level corruption in Ukraine.
“This developing conflict is very negative for Ukraine’s image with Western institutions, especially since the NABU is considered to be the most independent law enforcement body in Ukraine, whereas the Prosecutor General’s Office is widely believed to represent the president’s interests,” Zenon Zawada at Kyiv-based brokerage Concorde Capital wrote in a research note on August 15. “The president ought to take measures to deflate this conflict and prevent it from escalating further.”
The NABU has gained popularity by its recent investigation of a criminal group allegedly involved in illegal schemes when selling gas produced with the participation of state-owned company Ukrgazvydobuvannia. The case is regarded as a rare attempt to investigate high-profile crimes in Ukraine over the past two years.
On July 5, Ukraine’s parliament, the Verkhovna Rada, approved the criminal prosecution, detention and arrest of Oleksandr Onyshchenko, a member of the Volia Narodu (People's Will) parliamentary group, who allegedly was involved in the schemes. Later, the politician said that he is seeking political asylum in the UK
On August 11, the NABU’s Sytnyk, who is the former chief investigator of the prosecutor’s office in the Kyiv region, claimed that a PR campaign to discredit the country’s anti-corruption agencies, including the Bureau, will be carried out in September-October.
He also recognised certain signs of a conflict between the NABU and the Prosecutor General’s Office. “Our work causes more and more resistance, in particular on the part of other law enforcement agencies,” Sytnyk underlined. “This won't stop us any way.”