The bitter rivalry between Ukraine’s two leading anti-corruption agencies – the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) and the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) – descended to farcical levels on September 19. When one of the agencies caught the other trying to bug its offices the ensuing row ended in a fistfight between the agents. One officer’s arm was broken. The some of the agents stole the car of the other to make good their escape - and promptly caused a car crash. The two agencies were set up at the insistence of Ukraine’s western donors to bring to an end the country’s endemic graft, seen as crucial for Ukraine’s development, but since their establishment the two agencies spend much of their time arresting and investigating each other.
On September 19, the SAPO accused NABU detectives of an attempt to install a cable to spy on the prosecutor’s office. When the alleged bureau detectives were caught red handed, NABU special forces arrived at the scene, assaulted a prosecutor’s office security guard and broke his arm, stole his vehicle, causing an accident in the process, the pravda.com.ua news site reported. The bureau agents also fought with police who arrived at the scene, according to local media.
The same day, NABU's head Artem Sytnyk denied attempting to wiretap the prosecutor’s office. At the same time, the SAPO's chief Nazar Kholodnytsky said that Sytnyk's behaviour has nothing in common with the fight against corruption in the country.
Earlier, Sytnyk accused Kholodnytsky of alleged law violations during criminal investigations. The accusation followed weeks of wiretapping the personal office of Kholodnytskiy.
Meanwhile, the NABU's head Sytnyk was under fire recently for a secret midnight visit to the president’s private home for a meeting, which was slammed by local experts as a move, which "creates enormous suspicions and casts doubts on Sytnyk’s integrity".
Both NABU and SAPO were created around three years ago at the request of Western donors and backers, which wanted independent agencies investigating crimes of corruption and prosecuting them. NABU is the investigative part of a triumvirate that also includes SAPO, which carries out the prosecutions in parallel to the General Prosecutor’s Office, but is also entirely independent from the government’s control. What is missing is an independent anti-corruption court (ACC) to hear the cases investigated by NABU and prosecuted by SAPO. A law to set up this court was passed earlier this year after enormous pressure was brought to bear by the IMF.
"Obviously, this incident further harms Ukraine’s image and credibility among Western authorities, who have been desperate in finding progress in combating corruption in Ukraine," Zenon Zawada at Kyiv-based brokerage Concorde Capital wrote in a note on September 20.
This ongoing conflict also "jeopardises" the functioning of the independent anti-corruption court, whose creation was launched in June by the president after intense pressure from Western institutions and civil organisations, Zawada believes. The adoption of the court legislation is one of a key condition for a new tranche from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) support programme.
"It’s unclear what cases the court would begin to hear if these two bodies can’t cooperate in investigating and prosecuting them," he added.
"We expect this conflict to continue until after the 2019 elections because it’s very convenient for the leading politicians to have the anti-corruption bodies fighting with each other, rather than investigating and prosecuting cases," Zawada underlined in the note. "The conflict has caused both Kholodnytskiy and Sytnyk to align themselves with politicians and even perform favors for them (allegedly), such as closing cases."