Saturday, July 13, 2024
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Home » Ukraine’s Top Prosecutor Vows to Meet Key EU Membership Conditions Within Months

Ukraine’s Top Prosecutor Vows to Meet Key EU Membership Conditions Within Months

by Wunna Htun
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Ukraine is accelerating its drive to clean up its politics and will meet all the EU’s anti-corruption requirements within months, in what would be a major boost to its bid to join the 27-member bloc, the country’s top prosecutor told POLITICO.

“I am fully sure that all the elements of the anti-corruption and law enforcement reforms [required by the EU] will be completed in coming months,” Andrii Kostyn said in an interview at Ukraine’s mission to the EU in Brussels. “I am absolutely sure.”

But the prosecutor also warned that high-profile cases such as the detention of Ukraine’s former Supreme Court chief were being used by some who want to stop the country joining the EU.

Earlier this month, former European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said in an interview that Ukraine was “totally corrupt.”

In addition to Juncker’s comments, a leaked report from the U.S. State Department, obtained by POLITICO, showed that Washington was more concerned about corruption in Ukraine than officials admit in public.

“It’s not that we have more corruption than before, but we have more concrete and visible results of our fight against corruption,” Kostyn said. “And there are people trying to use this visibility against us.”

He blamed Russian influence for some of the backlash. “The closer we are to the Commission’s report on enlargement expected in early November, the more active Russia and its 5th column and agents of influence are getting to discredit Ukraine’s progress on its recommendations, including on anti-corruption,” he said.

Tackling corruption is a key demand from Brussels, which has listed seven areas where Ukraine must make progress before it can open formal negotiations on joining the bloc. 

Kyiv’s anti-corruption drive, which includes naming a special prosecutor and enforcing a new law that equates corruption with treason, is a key aspect of its EU accession bid. 

The EU’s executive arm is finalizing a progress report on reforms in Ukraine and other candidate countries, due out in November, with an eye to starting formal talks as early as December.

Among the country’s high-profile cases, Ukraine removed the former head of its Supreme Court, Vsevolod Knyazev, after he was accused of accepting $2.7 million in bribes. Former Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov, meanwhile, resigned following a series of corruption scandals that hit senior officials in his ministry.

Kostyn, who was named Ukraine’s prosecutor general in July 2022, didn’t deny that corruption exists in Ukraine, whose GDP per capita is on par with that of Algeria and Vietnam.

Taking bribes

“We recognize the need to step up the fight against corruption at all levels — confronting not only high-level corruption but also the so-called petty corruption,” he said. “We are also cleaning the prosecution system of corruption: Last month, two prosecutors were exposed for taking bribes.”

But he pushed back against depictions of Ukraine as being irretrievably corrupt, as well as criticism of the country’s new anti-corruption law, which tasks the security services with supervising the clean-hands drive.

The move prompted warnings that Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts could be subject to political influence, as the security services report to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Kostyn brushed that objection aside, quoting former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in advocating the toughest measures.

“President Zelenskyy is not the only world leader to come up with equating corruption to treason,” he said. “Golda Meir once said: ‘If you want to build a country to where its sons and daughters will return, equate corruption with treason, and corrupt officials with traitors up to the seventh generation.’”

As pressure builds on Kyiv to reform, the anti-corruption agenda has overshadowed Kostyn’s main job — which is to document, prosecute and, ultimately, punish those guilty of committing war crimes in Ukraine. He said his office was investigating more than 100,000 suspected war crimes committed by invading Russian forces, including newly-defined “environmental crimes.”

Kostyn was in Brussels to meet senior EU officials, including Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders, for the launch of the Atrocity Crimes Advisory Group, a body financed by the EU, U.S. and U.K. that financially supports and provides experts for Kyiv’s war crimes investigations.

“This isn’t only for Ukrainians,” he said. “It’s also helping the world to restore law and order at the international level.”


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