Kyiv is euphoric about the proceedings against Roman Nasirov, the head of the State Fiscal Service. Putting Nasirov on trial is a good chance to kill three birds with one stone: to win the favour of a principal ally and donor; to channel the voters’ dissatisfaction with the slow pace of reforms; and to get rid of an associate who is rapidly gaining political influence.
From the very beginning, the arrest and the rackety campaign against Roman Nasirov, the chief of the State Fiscal Service, has had political overtones or, at least, seemed to be a calculated distraction from something or someone. The interference in operations of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) by the members of the Verkhovna Rada, Serhiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayem, was masterfully staged and provided with media support. This excellent organization leaves no doubt that the real targets of the campaign stand higher than the top fiscal official of Ukraine.
A sacrifice to please foreign allies
By the end of February, the relationships between Ukraine and its principal allies and donors have significantly worsened. With Donald Trump elected as the US President, some Ukrainian politicians found themselves in a very awkward situation. Certain MPs (namely, the deputies Serhiy Leshchenko and Mustafa Nayem) believed they could win the favour of Hillary Clinton, the most likely, in their opinion, candidate to win the presidency. Before the start of elections, they made attacks on Paul Manafort, Donald Trump’s campaign manager. Politico, an influential American magazine, reported it as an established fact on February 23, 2017.
The February publication could have become a turning point in Leshchenko and Nayem’s political careers. It was no secret that previously they received financial support from the George Soros’s pro-democratic funds. Neither was a secret the fact that the information on Manafort’s alleged involvement in the Party of Regions’ political corruption schemes had been leaked with Leshchenko and Nayem’s major involvement. The Politico publication meant only one thing: that certain powers were ready to sacrifice the young and ambitious politicians for the sake of improving the relationship between Kyiv and Washington.
If Nayem and Leshchenko knew about these plans, that would explain the fervour with which they’d thrown themselves in the campaign to displace and prosecute the Ukrainian tax boss. Nasirov case positions them as key figures in the struggle against corruption. More importantly, however, it brings a tangible hope for Leshchenko and Nayem to leave behind the blame for their attacks on Manafort.
Sacrificing Nasirov was a move which satisfied many Ukrainian politicians. In two years, the head of the Fiscal Service has gained impressive political influence. His capabilities of gathering information and exercising pressure on certain companies have been ignored only by the most naïve or the laziest.
A sacrifice to please the friends
The growing dissatisfaction with the ineffectiveness of the corrupted state machine has urged the voters to demand some governmental action. Prosecuting the head of the State Fiscal Service might have seemed an elegant solution to certain chiefs of security agencies, but the evidence presented against Nasirov so far can hardly make a case. The lack of evidence was easily compensated by an effective media campaign and the involvement of politicians who seek the image of corruption fighters.
Numerous procedural irregularities during the first weeks of the Nasirov case unveiled the weaknesses in the position of NABU and the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO). These weaknesses were compensated by the political pressure on the court.
“We, as lawyers, see a number of gross violations, and I am definitely worried because some people see Nasirov in this case and others see the law”, said Heorhii Lohvynskyi, a member of Ukrainian Parliament from the “People’s Front” faction. It is worth mentioning that Lohvynskyi represents a parliamentary political force which belongs to the majority but rivals the presidential “Petro Poroshenko Bloc”. It is also worth noting that Nasirov was elected to the parliament as a member of “Petro Poroshenko Bloc”.
Heorhii Lohvynskyi fears that the mistakes of anti-corruption bodies will count against Ukraine if the case is examined by the European Court of Human Rights: “Current procedural violations are nothing new; these are all good old methods that have long been used. Before, however, you would be severely punished for these methods, put in jail, fired from the law enforcement, explained that charges are not to be served after 10 p.m., because these are not procedural rules, as some see them, but investigative actions. The European Court of Human Rights has been telling us for decades that people must not be put in cages. This is a violation of Article 3 of the Convention on Human Rights. And collectively it can be a violation of Article 6, the right to a fair trial. What does it amount to? That the court was unfair and everything must be reconsidered.”
Lohvynskyi mentions a cage for a reason: Nasirov was actually placed in a cage during court hearings, despite the fact that there were no grounds for this.
Boryslav Bereza, MP (non-affiliated, Press Secretary of the Right Sector before being elected to the Verkhovna Rada), commented the gross violations as well: “I think that Roman Nasirov’s lawyers should be extremely grateful. For several things. Firstly, grateful to the NABU employees for the fact that they served Nasirov with charges when he was unconscious. On the video, he looks like that, but they didn’t have enough sense to conduct an examination and record it.”
But numerous procedural violations are only a fraction of the story. As already mentioned, the flaws in the procedural standing were compensated by harassment and political leverage. “Thirdly, they should thank those bright activists who went to the judge’s house,” Boryslav Bereza wrote on his Facebook blog. “Congratulations, the very fact of such a visit is considered by the European Court of Human Rights as a way of pressuring the court and is intolerable from their point of view.”
Bereza also mentions moral pressure on Nasirov directly in the courtroom: “The fourth thank goes to the ‘great friends’ of Ukraine, who blocked Nasirov in court, violating Article 5 of the above Convention.”
Even some civic activists note the political component in the Nasirov’s case. For example, Dmytro Karp, the coordinator of the AvtoMaidan Kyiv NGO, wrote on Facebook: “Everything that is happening around serving Roman Nasirov with charges and the choice of pre-trial restrictions, as well as actions of the majority of present MPs and opinion leaders calling for trial, has nothing to do with the desire to ensure the supremacy of law! Most of them are driven by their own political agenda, playing with people’s emotions and desire for justice!”