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There is trend of attacks on anti-corruption organizations, journalists, and independent media – Shabunin

Vitaliy Shabunin, the Anticorruption Action Centre’s (AntAC) head
Vitaliy Shabunin, the Anticorruption Action Centre’s (AntAC) head

The Anticorruption Action Centre’s (AntAC) head, Vitaliy Shabunin, addressed the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) allegations of document forgery and military service evasion in an exclusive interview with NV on March 9.

Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) has initiated two criminal proceedings against the well-known anti-corruption activist Shabunin, the Ukrainian journalist Volodymyr Boiko said on Facebook on March 9.

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The cases against Shabunin were filed under Part 4 of Art. 409 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (evasion of military service) and Part 1 of Art. 358 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (forgery of an official document), Boiko said.

The second case concerns Shabunin’s alleged submission to the military unit where he was registered of letters bearing the signatures of the head of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), Oleksandr Novikov, and the deputy head of NABU, Artem Sytnyk. These letters requested the transfer of the soldier Shabunin to NABU.

However, after the situation became public, the NABU leadership officially claimed that they never issued such letters and accused Shabunin of writing them himself, Boiko said.

Read also: Ukrainian journalist on price for exposing government corruption – interview

NV: The SBI has reportedly opened two criminal cases against you for allegedly forging documents and evading military service. Can you tell us more about these cases? When were they opened? Who is the plaintiff?

VS: To be honest, I have no idea. I get information about it from the “leaks”. If I understand correctly, the applicant is lawyer Rostyslav Kravets, who is part of Pavlo Vovk’s team from the DACK (former head of the Kyiv District Administrative Court). This is the same Kravets who this week punched a representative of the Justice Ministry while defending the assets of (former Motor Sich executive and suspected collaborator Vyacheslav) Bohuslayev from confiscation. If I’m not mistaken, the cases were opened in December (2023). That’s all I know. I was not informed (about the cases), I was not summoned.

NV: What do you know about the cases themselves, about the alleged crime?

VS: There was a leak that the SBI had opened cases (for allegedly forging documents and evading military service). On the second day of the war, I voluntarily mobilized in Kyiv, to the Territorial Defense (TRO). There was a Kyiv operation, and then I was in the East, as a revenge from (then Defense Minister Oleksiy) Reznikov - when we showed corruption in his procurement.

Am I an idiot to forge official letters? It’s complete foolishness. Especially the NACP, which has an electronic document flow. It is impossible to forge anything there. Accusations of forging NAPC documents - you have to have no imagination to write such things. But let them fantasize. If there is any legal action, we will talk. This week the President’s Office (through a network of anonymous telegram channels) came out with what (Bellingcat investigative journalist) Christo Grozev said, that (AntAC executive director Daria) Kaleniuk and Shabunin allegedly took money from the (Russian) FSB, though he did not say that. Every time it’s some kind of fantasy. If only we had time to respond to all this.

Read also: Ukrainian PM denies anti-corruption agency accusations that he illegally disclosed information about whistleblower

NV: So you have not been officially informed about the opening of the case, there is no information from the SBI?

VS: No. They will tell me when they either charge me or call me as a witness. Now, according to the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC), in principle they don’t open (cases) against anybody – unless there is a fact, if there is an evidence.

NV: Do you think the cases are really opened? Or is it a fiction?

VS: I have no idea. I have a strong suspicion that the SBI can open a case about anything. It should be investigated how the SBU caught up with Bihus in an illegal way (the SBU’s illegal surveillance and wiretapping of the Bihus.Info investigative team), but there is no charge or suspicion. Similarly, the perpetrators of the attempted break-in at the home of (public procurement investigator and Nashi Hroshi editor Yuriy) Nikolov’s journalist were not even charged.

NV: Why were these cases opened in the first place?

Read also: Three SBU officers involved in illegal surveillance and wiretapping of Bihus.info sent to the front

VS: In general, it seems clear to me that there is a trend of attacks on anti-corruption organizations, anti-corruption journalists, and, I suspect, independent media. After the perpetrators of the attack on Nikolov’s apartment and the perpetrators of the persecution of Bihus were not even served with a notice of suspicion, it became clear that the government is the mastermind behind these cases. If not, at least the perpetrators would have been suspected. In both cases, they were identified. The National Police even searched and detained the perpetrators of the attack on Nikolov’s house - they were nicely searched with officers wearing bulletproof vests and helmets and then immediately released. Moreover, there are a lot of undisclosed facts of pressure on independent media that have never been mentioned on national television. In other words, it is obvious that the authorities are trying to control the information and the experts who create problems for them.

All the corruption scandals that are so unpleasant for the Ukrainian authorities are either the work of investigative journalists or investigative experts, as was the case with military jackets or Reznikov’s (overpriced) eggs. We are also constantly forcing them to clean up the BES (Bureau of Economic Security) or to restore (officials’) financial declarations. We are constantly creating problems that they obviously do not need.

I had criminal cases under both (President Petro) Poroshenko and Zelenskyy. That is the nature of power. They always dislike anti-corruption journalists and activists.

NV: What do you plan to do with these cases?

VS: Nothing. Let them fantasize about what they want. How do you react to it? To what? The devil Vovk, a friend and comrade of (deputy head of the OP Oleh) Tatarov-Portnov (referring to former deputy head of the AP Andriy Portnov), filed a report about the crime. Tatarov’s SBI registered it. Let them register it. If there are any actions, then we will talk to them.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine