Graham Stack in Kyiv -
Ukraine's embattled prosecutor general Vitaly Yarema is reported to have resigned amid public criticism of his failure to bring corruption cases to court, as well as allegations of graft among his subordinates.
The Interfax Ukraine news agency received confirmation of the resignation from the prosecutor general's office, with a number of MPs and media also reporting the same development. There has been no official comment on the move from any government office. Yarema has not commented personally on his resignation.
The resignation, if confirmed, is a blow to Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who is seen as Yarema's main backer in the post. Poroshenko nominated Yarema for the position last June after his election as president on May 25.
But Yarema's slow progress in prosecuting corruption and crimes of repression committed under the administration of Poroschenko's ousted predecessor, Viktor Yanukovych, sparked widespread criticism. In addition, the extensive personal wealth and property of some of his subordinates came under close scrutiny. Over 140 MPs reportedly signed a motion calling for his resignation in January.
As bne Intellinews reported earlier, the prosecutor general's office failed to bring charges in cases despite compelling evidence compiled by investigators, fuelling suspicions that prosecutors had struck backroom deals. Ukraine now faces the prospect that the European Union will lift asset freezes on a number of officials who served under Yanukovych, as a result of Ukraine's failure to provide evidence of crimes committed.
Critics also accuse Yarema's office of failing to bring charges over the massacre of pro-EU protestors in Kyiv on February 20-21, when police marksmen shot over 50 unarmed demonstrators.
Poroshenko may now try to regain the political initiative by nominating a surprise reform-oriented figure to the post, possibly a foreigner, analysts have speculated. Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseny Yatsenyuk have to date appointed three foreign experts to ministerial posts, and four as deputy ministers.
Deputy prosecutor general Viktor Shokin has been appointed acting prosecutor general, according to Interfax. Shokin, like Yarema, is a longstanding ally of Poroshenko. He is a an experienced figure, who first served as deputy prosecutor general in 2002 under the administration of President Leonid Kuchma.
Shokhin is Ukraine's fourth prosecutor general or acting prosecutor general over the last year. Viktor Pshonka, prosecutor general under Yanukovych, fled the country following the latter's ouster in a dramatic airport scene captured on CCTV cameras.
Immediately following the exit of Yanukovych and his ally Pshonka, the nationalist Svoboda party nominated their member Oleh Mahnitskyy as prosecutor general. Mahnitskyy was however dogged by allegations of corruption and ineffectiveness, leading Poroshenko to replace him with Yarema.
The influential head of Ukraine's foreign business lobby, European Business Association, has said that corruption has remained the same in Ukraine despite the ousting of Yanukovych after anti-corruption protests.
“My expectation was that they would immediately enforce zero tolerance for corruption once they took power,” Tomas Fialasaid in an interview with Novoe Vremya portal. "There is no mafia-style corruption created by the Yanukovych regime, but corruption overall remains rampant, engulfing the political parties and national leadership,” he said. “For me and the local business community, and Ukrainian society as a whole, it’s a bitter disappointment.”
Fiala argues that Ukraine's only hope is to follow the Georgian example of mass arrests to eliminate corruption, a policy carried out under the presidency of Mikheil Saakaschvil from 2003. “In Georgia, which has a population of 4mn, it took incarcerating 100,000 people to eliminate the practice of giving and taking bribes. The number relative to Ukraine’s population would be over 1mn,” Fiala argued in the interview, also calling for a Georgian-style cull of up to 80% of government personnel, in return for hikes in salaries for the remaining.
According to Fiala, politicial corruption is a major obstacle to any meaningful reform: each political party spent up to $100mn in election campaigning for parliamentary elections held on October 25, with seats in parliament being sold for as much as $5m, Fiala says. “It’s the money of their oligarch sponsors, whose goal now is to recoup and earn a hefty profit on their investment,” he argued.
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