Pandora’s Box Of Secret Agents’ E-Declarations
Just 55 out of 1,3 million officials’ electronic asset declarations have passed full verification by National Agency on Corruption Prevention and no signs of enrichment have been detected. Nobody should have any illusions regarding willingness of the Agency to pursue this reform.
However, Agency’s slackness has recently led even further allowing unreformed court to start pulling certain groups of officials out of the scope of the e-declarations. De-jure, they still declare their assets, de-facto – into the secret parallel system with neither the Agency, nor NABU having any access to it.
And this new way to nullify the reform may create a very dangerous precedent.
Covering Up With The Right Goal
The law on corruption prevention envisages additional protection for certain groups of public servants, specifically undercover agents. Those who work for intelligence agencies, fill or run for positions, holding which is a state secret fall under this provision. These are posts in military units or state bodies which carry out investigation, intelligence and counter-intelligence. According to the law, submission of asset declarations by these officials is organized in a way that makes disclosure of their affiliation with the abovementioned institutions impossible. The Agency must adopt the special procedure.
Lawmakers were clear: secret agents are to be secured, but no amnesty for illicit enrichment to be imposed.
However, in violation of the legislation, the Agency has been failing to adopt the special procedure for more than a year already. Consequently, using the opinion issued by the state expert on secrets, who is also a deputy head of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), the SBU classified the declarations of all their staff. This includes senior officials, who, apparently, are pretty public figures and have nothing to do with undercover activities. Moreover, the SBU has launched its own closed automatic system of e-declarations, and empowered themselves to verify them and bring its staff to justice for illicit enrichment and false statements.
The Agency for Corruption Prevention blessed this whole process by approving such a secret system, giving unlawful possibility for SBU management and public officials to hide their assets from everybody.
Trying to put a good face on a bad game, in December 2016-January 2017 the Agency prepared draft special procedure for submission of declarations by undercover agents. They even collected some recommendations from the respective state institution. However, since that time draft document is pending.
Failed Attempts to Restore Justice
On… the NGO Anticorruption Action Center filed a lawsuit against the SBU and the Agency for Corruption Prevention for classification of the asset declarations of SBU top-management and launching of the secret system of processing and storage of SBU’s e-declarations.
The judgment was passed 9 months after the suit was filed: the court rejected all the demands in their entirety.
The court stated that the work on development of the special procedure goes on and SBU’s parallel system and classification of their e-declarations are just forced measures for interim period.
Moreover, the verdict articulates that no violations were done by the Agency, as lawmakers did not set any deadlines for special procedure adoption, thus allowing this process to be everlasting.
But even more dangerous conclusion is that the court finds all of the investigation, intelligence and counter-intelligence staff to be secret. This allows a number of other state agencies, as the National Police, NABU, Foreign Intelligence Service etc, part of whose personnel does investigation or intelligence to establish their own declaration systems and ignore the Register administered by the Agency for Corruption Prevention.
Should the situation not be addressed promptly, other institutions may be tempted to follow SBU’s example. Military prosecutor’s office? The domino effect would water down the whole reform.
AntAC will appeal this court decision, as it is regarded as having nothing in common with justice, up to the Supreme Court – to have grounds to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.
Simultaneously, close monitoring and conditioning of international assistance on effective e-declarations verification and bringing corrupt officials to justice for illicit enrichment is crucial.
In addition, it is important to reboot the Agency for Corruption Prevention and its current selection panel.
by Olena Halushka, international affairs manager at AntAC