Judicial Reform Floundering

Concorde Capital Political Report June 24

Accused Ukraine judge says president’s office demanded rulings

Anton Chernushenko, the chief judge of the Kyiv Appellate Court facing possible criminal charges, alleged on June 23 that the Prosecutor General Office’s current attempt to remove his judicial immunity stems from his refusal to issue illegal rulings on the government’s behalf. He told a press briefing that he was called to the Presidential Administration several times by deputy head Oleksiy Filatov, who gave him orders on what decisions he was supposed to reach. Among them was to rule on arresting the property of Naftogazvydobuvannia, for which Chernushenko said there was no legal basis to do so. Naftogazvydobuvannia is Ukraine’s largest private natural gas producer and is controlled by DTEK (DTEKUA), which belongs to the nation’s biggest oligarch, Rinat Akhmetov. Filatov dismissed the accusations.

Law enforcement authorities searched Chernushenko’s residence on June 21, the judge said in the briefing, confiscating a safe, among other items. The next day, they conducted a search of his office during which they confiscated money from his robe, among other items that the judge declined to reveal the origins of. Chernushenko said he won’t flee the country if criminal charges are filed, “no matter how hard it gets.” Acting Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) Head Vasyl Hrytsak accused Chernushenko on June 22 of manipulating the appellate court’s computerized system of assigning court cases to judges. The SBU is currently investigating interference in the computerized system of automatic, random assignment of cases, he said.

Zenon Zawada: It’s quite distressing to see such serious accusations being made from both sides, which inflict yet another black eye on the country’s image. Poroshenko had the opportunity to conduct a complete lustration of Ukraine’s judicial corps and recruit younger judges with Western education, which could have avoided such scandals and earned trust form the public. If Chernushenko’s accusations are true, then he has resorted to keeping the old guard in place and conducting business as usual.

Chernushenko’s claims cast doubt on the legitimacy of the president’s “deoligarchization” campaign. If the president is using illegal means to reduce the influence of oligarchs, then the question becomes of what’s the ultimate goal of the campaign. Is it to implement institutions of rule of law and equality before the law, as well as reduce monopolization of resources, or is it to enhance the president’s authority and control over the key assets in the country? Instead, for instance, the president could have revamped the judicial system and pursued any pretenses against the oligarchs in the courts.

The Chernushenko conflict is one of numerous scandals that indicate Poroshenko doesn’t believe in liberal reforms and has a cynical position towards the ability of Ukrainians to adopt Western institutions and practices. As we’ve stated, this doesn’t bode well for his political prospects. The EuroMaidan protest wasn’t held to replace one authoritarian president with someone who is taking a similar path, though admittedly not as extreme.