Ukraine president rejects "donor pressure" over anti-corruption court

Ukraine president rejects
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has rejected an idea that "foreign donors will form" the nation's independent anti-corruption court
By Sergei Kuznetsov in Kyiv March 7, 2018

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko has rejected an idea that "foreign donors will form" the nation's independent anti-corruption court, according to his interview with the Financial Times published on March 6.

Specifically, the Ukrainian president rejected the idea that the country’s foreign partners can have any sort of veto over which judges are appointed to the anti-corruption court (ACC), something they are explicitly asking for.

"If anybody can imagine that foreign donors will form Ukrainian courts, this is against the constitution, because only the Ukrainian people can have a decisive role in creating the Ukrainian parliament, Ukrainian court system, and, through parliament, the Ukrainian government," Poroshenko said. "That is absolutely clear."

De facto, Poroshenko repeated his late February's statement that agreements between Kyiv and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) should be based on joint compromise agreements, and he "will not allow anybody to dictate something to us". "All this is a matter of compromise," he added, underlining that he is not involved in the negotiations with the IMF, but he has regular meetings with the Fund's Managing Director Christine Lagarde and her deputy David Lipton.

The statement appeared against a background of the IMF's growing pressures on Kyiv by insisting on the expeditious consideration of the legislation to create an independent anti-corruption court in the country.

"The selection of judges for a future anti-corruption court is crucial for its independence," Alexander Paraschiy at Kyiv-based brokerage Concorde Capital wrote n a research note on March 6. "Therefore, it's not in the interest of Ukraine's elites to allow international experts to be able to reject or veto the nomination of certain candidates to the court."

The expert believes there is "room for compromise" in the selection of judges to the anti-corruption court, as Poroshenko is hoping for. "Therefore, we treat Poroshenko’s continued resistance to "foreign donors," as he referred to them (as opposed to "Western partners"), as a very disturbing signal that threatens the chances on getting the IMF loan tranche this year," Paraschiy wrote in the note.

In January, the IMF sent a letter to the Ukrainian leadership in which the lender expressed "serious concerns" about the bill, as several provisions are not consistent with the authorities’ commitments under a $17.5bn support programme agreed with Kyiv in 2015, and the recommendations of the Venice Commission of the Council of Europe.

The IMF said that the bill opens up opportunities for additional delays in establishing the court. According to the multinational lender, the establishment and operation of the court is a key pillar of Ukraine’s anti-corruption agenda; however, in its current form the IMF said it would not be able to support the bill.

Specifically, the bill lacks the transparent appointment of competent and trustworthy anti-corruption judges. International organisations and donors should be able to recommend members for a public council of international experts, whose roles should be “crucial”, not “just advisory” in judges’ selection, the IMF letter read.

On February 28, Poroshenko said that he personally appealed to the country's parliament, the Varkhovna Rada, with regard to the bill on the anti-corruption court. "The parliament can make any changes there during preparation for the second reading [of the bill]," the president said.

Meanwhile, in his interview with the Financial Times, Poroshenko warned that the final draft should be consistent with the constitution, otherwise "anyone can go to the [Ukrainian] Constitutional Court and suspend or stop this law," which would be "a catastrophe."

Concorde's Paraschiy believes that one of the likely scenarios, which Poroshenko hinted at in the interview, is that parliament approves the law in line with IMF demands (and Ukraine receives the next loan tranche), but then Ukraine’s Constitutional Court will declare the law unconstitutional and repeals it altogether.