Replacing prison terms with mobilization for white-collar criminals – expert interview

Anti-Corruption Action Centre head Vitaliy Shabunin
Anti-Corruption Action Centre head Vitaliy Shabunin

The Ukrainian parliament may soon vote on a bill that would release former officials convicted for corruption from prisons to serve in the military instead. Vitaliy Shabunin, the head of the Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC), explained the implications of such a step in an interview with NV Radio on May 1.

NV: Bill No. 11079-1 provides for convicts to serve in the Armed Forces of Ukraine, but you also highlighted other effects it would produce. Would you explain those?

Shabunin: The parliament passed this bill in the first reading in mid-April. And then we drew the lawmakers’ attention: “Look, we don’t assess whether convicts should be mobilized. These are political decisions for elected representatives. But we need to understand exactly which convicts, for which crimes you’re going to call up or give them such a right. And when it comes to corrupt senior officials, we have serious doubts that these people will serve, but they’ll definitely get the right to escape from prison.”

Therefore, we drew the lawmakers’ attention that the idea itself shouldn’t be discredited: “Let’s not help the lawmakers, your colleagues, who are currently under investigation for corruption crimes, don’t help the top corrupt officials, such as [former head of the State Fiscal Service Roman] Nasirov or others, to avoid prison, but simply remove this norm from the bill.” The norm that allows the mobilization of convicts serving terms for corruption crimes.

And then everyone promised us that it was a misunderstanding, a coincidence, and they would remove it. Turns out—not the case. Today, the committee chaired by [MP Serhiy] Ionushas, the Law Enforcement Committee, is holding a meeting where they were going to forget their promises to us. Only because of public interest in the topic, the bill was discussed, but the decision was postponed until tomorrow.

Read also: Mobilization bill amended to exclude demobilization clause — report

NV: What are top corruption cases and other corruption crimes? How to distinguish who can be called up for military service under this bill, and who should continue serving their sentence?

Shabunin: This is a great question. Let’s figure out how many people we’re talking about. When the state (and this is normal) in wartime asks, legally demands so much from the citizens, namely the willingness to sacrifice their lives or those of their relatives, the society is very sensitive to injustice. The opportunity for top corrupt officials to escape punishment is a trigger in society.

So, how many people does the state want to get for the army, undermining public trust in the state? Because it’s about injustice. So, for you to understand, if we’re talking about the verdicts of the High Anti-Corruption Court (HACC) over all the years of its existence, 160 people have been [convicted] of grave corruption crimes.

And now the question to the authors of the bill: “Are 160 people such a critical number for the Armed Forces of Ukraine that you undermine trust in society, in the authorities in wartime?” Do you think 160 people can solve the manpower problem at the front? I’m asking the lawmakers who delayed passing the mobilization reform for six months, which was supposed to produce hundreds of thousands of fresh recruits. Not 160 people, but hundreds of thousands.

Let’s assume the HACC hasn’t ruled on all major corruption crimes. Let’s assume that someone was serving a prison term five years before the HACC was established. Well, let there be 500 of them. Five hundred against hundreds of thousands.

How’s the committee going to get away with it? How’s it going to deceive society, deceive all of us? They’ll say: “You know, you’re right. We won’t give the right to mobilize for especially grave corruption crimes, let’s keep them in prison. But we’ll give the right [to mobilize] for all other corruption crimes.” This is a manipulation, because most of the corrupt officials are “adjusted” to the articles of the Criminal Code, which are formally not “grave.”

Especially grave crimes aren’t about the amount of damage, not about how much was stolen from us, but about how it was stolen. Nasirov is accused of stealing about one hundred million hryvnias. At the same time, his crime isn’t “especially grave.”

Whom does it concern? If the bill is passed without amendments, the following may avoid prison: Nasirov, the perpetrators of Rotterdam Plus [energy pricing formula which hiked electricity tariffs], businessmen Oleh Bakhmatyuk and Kostyantyn Zhevago, MP Oleksandr Hranovskyi [associate of former President Petro Poroshenko], brother of judge Pavlo Vovk from the OASK [Kyiv District Administrative Court], and many others. There are also deputy ministers, judges, I won’t list all of them. In addition, MPs Serhiy Labazyuk, Andriy Odarchenko, Serhiy Shakhov, Serhiy Kuzminykh, Liudmyla Marchenko, and Natalia Korolevska may avoid responsibility (prison).

I get the impression that the lawmakers, while “rescuing” at most several hundred people from prison, are far from thinking about the army’s needs in human resources, but rather about the possibility of getting the top crooks off the hook, both those who are already in prison, those who are under investigation, and those who will face investigation.

Read also: Ukrainian President Zelenskyy signs new mobilization bill

NV: We remember the Soviet narrative of "washing away your guilt with blood." Is it impossible to control that those who are in prison and will be released will serve? I understand, the question is naive.

Shabunin: True, the question is naive. You seem to have been in public history for a long time. Let’s be real here. Will Nasirov serve? Will any of the lawmakers serve at the front, where there is the greatest need?

NV: We don’t know, maybe he’ll become a sniper. Maybe we’re underestimating them.

Shabunin: I have my doubts. We asked the authors of the bill about the method of control, but they didn’t give us a clear answer.

What’s more, as soon as they’re mobilized, they are immediately subject to all the regulations, as in the case of a mobilized person, in particular with the military medical commissions, whose ruling, unfortunately, are often sold. Those involved in corruption crimes with real influence, including incumbent legislators, will definitely find a way to avoid deployment to the front or the military service itself.

And when, for example, if the medical commission grants them deferment, they don’t go back to prison. That’s it—they are free. Isn’t that convenient? Therefore, don’t have any illusions because these people will definitely not go to the front.

Read also: Parliament rejects mobilization deferment for high earners

NV: What do you expect from the committee in the near future? What’s the solution to the problem, given the publicity?

Shabunin: I don’t expect anything from this committee. It’s completely controlled by [Deputy Head of the President’s Office] Oleh Tatarov, who has proven his inadequacy and lack of any connection with the real world many times. I’m convinced this scheme is being created in advance in order to avoid responsibility for top corrupt officials. Therefore, I have no doubts that the committee will vote for the bill in its current version, which allows corrupt officials to avoid responsibility.

I have hope that the parliament, when considering the entire bill, will remove these norms in a reading on the floor.

For example, this bill doesn’t allow mobilization of people who were involved in drunk driving incidents. They aren’t subject to mobilization. At the same time, those who stole hundreds of millions, including from the army, can be mobilized. There is no logic in this.

That’s why I have hope that legislators will remove this provision. I’m not debating whether convicts should be mobilized or not. This is a political decision. But it’s absolutely necessary to prevent the top corrupt officials from avoiding responsibility.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine