Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky has urged parliament to disband and re-establish the country’s constitutional court after its judges this week dealt a severe blow to western-backed anti-corruption efforts.
Legislation submitted by Mr Zelensky on Friday would also cancel the constitutional court’s recent ruling that neutered the powers of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention to punish public servants for filing false information in their asset declarations. The asset register set up in 2016 was regarded as a linchpin of efforts to crack down on official corruption.
Unless MPs backed the legislation, Ukraine risked running out of money given its dependency on IMF and EU loans, Mr Zelensky warned. He said: “We will not have money . . . we will have a big hole in the budget.”
He added: “We need to take quick yet adequate steps at the legislative level — I am sure it is fair . . . for the restoration of the rectitude of the constitutional judiciary.”
Activists and experts in Kyiv claim that pro-Russia and oligarch-linked MPs who hold a minority in parliament have systematically tried to derail Ukraine’s co-operation with the IMF and western backers through appeals to the constitutional court challenging the legality of anti-corruption institutions. Oleksandr Tupytsky, head of the constitutional court, said Mr Zelensky’s legislation amounted to a “constitutional coup”. The constitutional court, whose judges were themselves being probed by law enforcement for discrepancies in their asset declarations, is currently hearing another appeal by pro-Russia and oligarch-linked MPs questioning the constitutionality of a recently formed anti-corruption court. In August, the constitutional court ruled that the director of the NABU anti-graft bureau was illegally appointed in 2015. In February 2019, the court repealed legislation that established the asset declaration agency. Mr Zelensky pushed through legislation re-establishing the body after taking power later that year. Mr Zelensky’s move to disband the constitutional court risks plunging the country into a constitutional crisis. It was described by pro-western opposition MPs as an attempt to “usurp power”. It was not immediately clear if Mr Zelensky’s party, which holds a shaky ruling majority in parliament, would get the legislation adopted without their support. Anti-corruption campaigners who have accused Mr Zelensky of foot-dragging on reforms of Ukraine’s unruly judiciary welcomed the president’s decision to reboot the constitutional court. “This is a historic decision,” said Vitaliy Shabunin, head of the board at Antac, a Kyiv-based anti-corruption watchdog. Speaking during a protest on Friday outside the constitutional court, Oleksandr Danylyuk, a former finance minister who helped set up the anti-corruption bodies, said he supported Mr Zelensky’s “radical move”. Mr Danylyuk, who resigned a year ago from his position as national security chief in Mr Zelensky’s administration, said “it’s the right decision” and is supported by Kyiv’s western backers to prevent a “revanchism” by pro-Russia forces and “avoid chaos”.
Ambassadors to Ukraine from G7 countries criticised the constitutional court ruling in a joint statement on Thursday. “[We are] alarmed by efforts to undo the anti-corruption reforms that followed the Revolution of Dignity,” they said referring to the 2014 protests in Kyiv against kleptocracy that toppled a pro-Russia president.