US hails "victory" appointment of Ukrainian anti-corruption prosecutor

US hails
By bne IntelliNews December 1, 2015

The appointment by Ukraine of a new anti-corruption prosecutor after months of deadlock over the issue is a "victory" for the country as it tackles endemic graft, US ambassador to the country Geoffrey Pyatt wrote in congratulations on December 1.

"Assigning Nazar Kholodnytsky as new anti-corruption prosecutor is a victory for Ukraine," Pyatt wrote on Twitter, praising the country for digging its heels in against corruption.

"There's no place for corruption or nepotism among officials who serve their nation," Pyatt commented following the appointment announced a day earlier by Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin.

The decision to name 31-year-old Kholodnytsky as the head of the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office ends a long and thorny selection process. Kholodnytsky was one of two candidates finally submitted to Shokin by the nominating commission. He previously spent 10 years serving in the Prosecutor General's Office, with his most recent position being first deputy prosecutor general of Crimea from December 2014, following its annexation by Russia. He is credited with arresting property worth more than UAH1bn ($41.7mn) belonging to those who supported the annexation.

The appointment also enables the much overdue start of operation of the subordinate Anti-Corruption Bureau, Ukraine's main anti-corruption institution that was set up in April under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and other Western backers and donors.

In April, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko appointed the 35-year-old former chief investigator of the Kyiv region prosecutor's office Artem Sytnyk as the Anti-Corruption Bureau's first head. This was the culmination of a selection process by commission of more than 170 candidates for the post. Passing legislation for the Bureau's creation and appointing of its head took around a year. 

Kholodnytsky's appointment was taken to signal a crucial concession to critics of Prosecutor General Shokin, who claim he selectively applies his powers to protect Poroshenko’s interests.

"Anti-corruption activists declared the nominations of Kholodnytskiy and [runner up candidate Maksym] Hryshchuk a victory against President Petro Poroshenko, who worked with Shokin to resist candidates that they viewed as too independent and active," Concorde Capital's chief analyst Zenon Zawada said in a research note on December 1.

Accordingly, the pair successfully torpedoes the candidacy of another hot favourite for the job, Vitaliy Kasko, whose anti-corruption dedication even earned the endorsement of the US government, Zawada wrote. Poroshenko also succeeded in resisting EU demands to replace his appointments to the nominating committee, who went to extremes to undermine Kasko's candidacy, the analyst noted.

"It looks like the president doesn't appreciate the spirit and the motive behind anti-corruption efforts, which he perceives as a threat. Given his intense resistance, we expect many more conflicts and scandals involving the specialized anti-corruption prosecutor general," Zawada concluded.

The entire episode of appointing a head of the anti-corruption office reveals Poroshenko is willing to resist even the demands of the EU and US governments when his personal interests are threatened, claimed the analyst. "This approach to politics doesn't offer any long-term prospects for Ukraine's future and will lead to serious conflicts next year," he wrote, forecasting a 50/50 likelihood of a change in the country's top leadership in the coming months.

While Ukraine has scored considerable success in reducing its external debt, critics say this will be meaningless while institutions are riddled with the same corruption that pervaded under former president Viktor Yanukovych, who was ousted from power by protests in February 2014. As living standards drop for most of the population, demands are also becoming more vocal for the resignations of both Shokin and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk. Poroshenko's own popularity has dropped significantly in the past year.