Trump card Shokin – not so shocking
Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor Shokin has become one of the major bargaining chips in top level trading aimed at creating a new creation. But it seems that the president has wasted this "trump" card: the coalition has not been set up, while the smaller factions’ appetite seems to have grown.
Almost immediately after Viktor Shokin’s appointment in February 2015, there was an attempt to present him as almost as the most effective of the Ukrainian prosecutors ever. But six months into taking office - in July of last year – Shokin for the first time came into a spotlight of a high-profile scandal. The reason was a top-level corruption case against prosecutors Oleksandr Korniyets and Volodymyr Shapakin (later dubbed “diamond prosecutors” after law enforcers discovered huge amounts of cash and precious stones during searches). It should be particularly noted that this raid was led by Shokin’s young deputies – Vitaliy Kasko and Georgia-born Davit Sakvarelidze. Both of them faced certain problems immediately after the diamond prosecutors’ arrest. The PGO launched a probe against them into alleged procedural violations during the arrest and other "misdemeanors."
President Petro Poroshenko had to personally reconcile the "old" and the "new" prosecutorial teams.
President Petro Poroshenko had to personally reconcile the "old" and the "new" prosecutorial teams. But the truce did not last long. The next clash between the "old" and the "new" prosecutors took place in the autumn of 2015: when the scandal was a bit forgotten, the prosecutor's office resumed the inquiry against the investigators of the "diamond prosecutors" case. This time, not only the public, but also the U.S. Ambassador took the side of the "young" team. In other words, constant bickering in PGO – the agency subordinated to the Ukrainian president – was obvious even overseas.
Weeks have passed, the activists picketed the presidential administration and the parliament demanding that the president submit dismissal papers against Shokin to the parliament, the Rada MPs reluctantly collected the required number of signatures for the prosecutor general’s dismissal – the move which gathered 25,000 signatures under the corresponding petition on the president’s website as early in October 2015… But there was still no reaction. President Poroshenko still did not wish to sack Viktor Shokin, indicating that the prosecutor general is an important figure for the Head of State. Moreover, such behavior of the president could not be called logical, given that the prosecutor general, instead of cleaning the Augean stables of the prosecutors’ offices of corruption and nepotism, was a regular participant to the attacks on those who actually tried to do it. Most of the time, he was on sick leave anyway.
Shokin in exchange for coalition
Given such an attitude of the president to the prosecutor’s general, it is not surprising that Shokin has become one of the major bargaining chips in the trade for a new coalition and the dismissal of incumbent Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk in a legal way. This idea is backed by the fact that the president tabled in parliament a draft resolution on Shokin’s dismissal on February 22, 2016. That is, exactly, after the MPs failed to support the move to dismiss the prime minister and went on a three-week "vacation." But the formal basis for the submission of the draft resolution was Shokin’s personal resignation letter. It’s just that document made it to the session hall only late March.
Secondly, it was funny for the umpteenth time to see how the Parliament easily gives the go-ahead for the resignation of Ukraine’s top prosecutor official, to whom there have piled up more than enough questions. Instead of asking these questions as Ukraine’s representative body, the parliament shies and brushes the issue off by swiftly issuing a resolution… "A letter has been received from the prosecutor general to the Verkhovna Rada of Ukraine, with a request to consider the matter without his participation," said Rada Speaker and candidate for the premiership Volodymyr Groysman.
It was funny for the umpteenth time to see how the Parliament easily gives the go-ahead for the resignation of Ukraine’s top prosecutor official, to whom there have piled up more than enough questions.
After that, the MPs were unanimous in “denouncing” the performance of Victor Shokin, and 289 votes were cast to grant the president the right to dismiss the "old man."
"Viktor Shokin’s era at the PGO has ended. The Verkhovna Rada endorsed his resignation, and according to an old tradition, did not hear a report of a man who was sent to resign. [Former SBU chief] Nalyvaychenko was dismissed in a similar way – quietly, without Q&A... The questions could be very interesting. But the answers – even more so,"said MP Boryslav Bereza.
Slamming the door
All in all, the long-awaited and successful vote could well be considered a conditional victory, if not for one thing. Despite alleged sick leave (Shokin could not attend the parliamentary execution citing health condition; on Monday, the PGO did not confirm this information, but the rumor had already been launched), knowing for sure that he would be sacked, Shokin still managed to slam the door: he fired Deputy Prosecutor General, Prosecutor of Odesa region Davit Sakvarelidze, also reporting in a disciplinary order his “gross violation of prosecutorial ethics."
"Today, the prosecutor general dismissed me from the post of his deputy and the regional prosecutor of Odesa region. The formal grounds were stated as "gross violations of prosecutorial ethics." I want to openly declare that I did violate "prosecutorial ethics," but it is exactly in their sense of the term... It [“prosecutorial ethics” is theft, corruption, mutual responsibility… Yes, I violated this prosecutorial ethics, and I always will. From the first day of my appointment, I have been tackling this so-called "ethics code," Sakvarelidze said.
In this story, two things are remarkable. Firstly, the fact that Shokin brought Sakvarelidze to disciplinary responsibility on March 29. In other words, Shokin was healthy enough "to punish and pardon," but not too healthy to attend the Rada session and answer the deputies’ questions.
Secondly, it’s the president claims he has nothing to do with this situation. "The President invited me and said that my dismissal was not agreed [with him]," said Sakvarelidze.
However, head of anti-corruption Center Vitaly Shabunin noted that this dismissal in fact means clearing a "comfortable field for the future prosecutor general who will be controlled by the Presidential Administration, the one it wants to put in place of Shokin". "Realizing that Shokin will be sacked anyway, Poroshenko fired Sakvarelidze with his [Shokin’s] hands," he said.
Now it seems that the key problem of the activists is not Viktor Shokin, but the one who will come to replace him.
Actually, now it seems that the key problem of the activists is not Viktor Shokin, but the one who will come to replace him.
According to Shabunin, the candidates for the post of PGO head are: First Deputy Prosecutor General Yuriy Sevruk and Deputy Prosecutor General Yuriy Stolyarchuk.
The PGO also called not to draw the agency into politics and said it will work with any prosecutor general, whom the president will put forward and the Rada will endorse.
The President’s man
While Petro Poroshenko is forming his substitution bench for this position, the parliamentarians from the old coalition’s factions, who should potentially join the new coalition, are in fact considering to deprive the Head of State of the right to be the only one to decide on a candidate for the prosecutor general post.
For example, Samopomich urged the deputies not to repeat the mistakes that plagued the prosecutor's office also in the times of former prosecutors Yarema and Makhnitskyi, as well as Shokin. "We ask not to multiply the mistakes and instead select the next prosecutor general exclusively through competition. So that it is an independent person, and not just another friend of the President," said MP from the faction Yehor Sobolev.
He was supported by a colleague from the "Popular Front" Leonid Yemets: "Unfortunately, we see that the mechanism, which is provided today by the Constitution, is not effective. This is the third prosecutor general, whose resignation we endorse due to their poor performance. We can once again get this vicious circle, if we don’t carry out the procedure for appointing [of the prosecutor general] through an open transparent competition."
According to the Lyashko, appointing Shokin was a mistake, but another mistake would be allowing the president to determine the candidate for the post of the prosecutor general again.
According to the head of the Radical Party, Oleh Lyashko, appointing Shokin was a mistake, but another mistake would be allowing the president to determine the candidate for the post of the prosecutor general again. "As long as a prosecutor general is dependent on the president, there will be no reform of the prosecutor's office," he said.
The MP recalled that a group of deputies as early as last year registered a bill on the competition procedure of selection of candidates for the post of the head of the PGO.
But, for example, Batkivshchyna, whose members are also co-authors of the above-mentioned draft law, are now eager to amend the Basic Law as well. According to the MP from this faction Ihor Lutsenko, "the name of the prosecutor general today is Poroshenko." "And we need to do everything so that this name finally changes... We have often heard the statements about an open competition. But let’s open the Constitution and read, who is to appoint the prosecutor, and in what procedure... If we want an open and transparent competition, let's amend the Constitution," he said.
At the same time, the pro-presidential faction noted that the main question is not about the prosecutor general. "As long as there is this prosecution system, any head of the agency is doomed," said MP from the BPP Volodymyr Aryev.
In his opinion, to change the system, a number of technical laws should be adopted, while the wages of prosecutors – raised, following the example of how this has been done for the brand new police. "Without this [condition], quality and honest lawyers would not enter the competition, while the old prosecutors will, with great pleasure," said the MP.
Bargaining in vain
However, they are all well aware a nice speech and an actual voting are two different things, especially considering that a new coalition has not yet been formed. Furthermore, while the initial stage of the parliamentary bargaining included the issues of Shokin’s resignation and distribution of seats in the new Cabinet, right after the dismissal of the prosecutor general, the appetite of some factions has grown sharply.
In particular, having vowed to enter into a new coalition, leader of Batkivshchyna Yulia Tymoshenko as soon as Shokin was thrown out of the PGO put forward new conditions to her potential partners in a future of parliamentary majority. She demanded to adopt a package of bills, in particular concerning the indexation of wages and pensions, and restore order in the tariff system. "They tell us: ‘You first enter into a coalition, and then we will see what we’ll do...’ These tricks no longer work... We remain in negotiations, but we have a condition: first, we vote a package of bills that clearly settle the situation in the country, and after that, there’s no problem to create a coalition, but not vice versa," said Tymoshenko.
This bargaining does make sense, considering that the People's Front and BPP (218 MPs) can not form a coalition (226 MPs required) without attracting another faction or a group of deputies. However, considering the latest developments, the new coalition, whatever format, will hardly be sustainable.