Former head of Ukraine's supreme court sent to custody over $2.7mn bribery charges after "large-scale" corruption scheme exposed.

Former head of Ukraine's supreme court sent to custody over $2.7mn bribery charges after
/ Ліпавський Дмитро Юрійович
By Dominic Culverwell in London May 21, 2023

Vzevolod Knyazev, the ex-head of Ukraine’s Supreme Court, has been sent to custody for 60 days with the option of posting bail set at UAH107mn ($2.9mn) over bribery charges amounting to $2.7mn, Suspilne reported on May 18.

Knyazev was detained on May 15 after Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO) exposed a "large-scale corruption scheme in the Supreme Court", revealing that judges were bribed to rule in favour of certain individuals. He was removed from his position a day later after 140 out of 142 judges on the Supreme Court voted to dismiss him.

The former Head of the Supreme Court, who held the position since December 2021, reportedly accepted a bribe to sway the court’s decision over the case of Ukrainian oligarch Kostyantyn Zhevago, allowing him to retain his shares in the Poltava Mining and Processing Plant, part of the Ferrexpo group, amounting to 40.19% of the company.

An investigation carried out between 2018 and 2021 found that Zhevago deliberately gave false information in the company’s documents to avoid paying UAH2bn ($54.6mn) in rental payments to the state, the Kyiv Independent reported. The plant’s chief accountant was charged with tax evasion and forgery on February 2.

The investigation into Ukraine’s corrupt legal system is ongoing, and another lawyer, Oleh Horetskyi, has also been charged with acting as a middleman between Zhevago and the Supreme Court, according to Ukrainian Pravda. Oleksandr Klymenko, the head of SAPO, noted that "most courts on Ukraine's territory” are involved in the scheme.

Kazniev faces 12 years in prison if found guilty. Dmytro Luspenyk, the secretary of the Supreme Court's plenary sessions, has been made acting head of the Supreme Court whilst the decision to elect the new chairman is still in process.

Although Zhevago denies any involvement in the bribery of Knyazev, he was accused of embezzlement and money laundering at the now-defunct Finance and Credit Bank in 2019, where he was a shareholder, amounting to $113mn. The State Bureau of Investigation is working alongside the Agency for Investigation and Management of Assets and Swiss agencies to confiscate $113mn in frozen assets from a Swiss account belonging to the businessman, the Kyiv Independent reported.

The State Bureau of Investigation requested that Zhevago’s funds be frozen after the decision of the Pechersk District Court of the city of Kyiv on October 26, 2022.

The Ukrainian government seized Zhevago’s company AvtoKrAZ, which produces trucks, in November last year as part of a decision "in connection with military necessity". The company, alongside four others, was handed over to the Ministry of Defence.

Corruption has been at the forefront of the government’s reforms in recent months. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy approved a comprehensive strategic plan for reforming Ukraine’s law enforcement system last week.

“Every element of the state system – law enforcement agencies first and foremost – must work in such a way that people really feel safe and secure, that people really feel justice, that it is guaranteed at the level of institutions by the daily work of those by whom people judge the state,” Zelenskiy said on May 11.

As part of Kyiv’s efforts to turn over a new leaf, Zelenskiy implemented major reforms last summer, including appointing a new head of the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office, a position that had been vacant for nearly two years, and a new prosecutor general. Moreover, the government filled the position of Director of NABU in March.

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