On September, 1, 2020 National Anticorruption Bureau revealed a new portion of the recordings in so-called “Vovk tapes” criminal case. The recordings evidence the dependence of the High Council of Justice (HCJ) from the head of the District administrative court of Kyiv (DACK) Pavlo Vovk. Pavlo Vovk used his personal relations with some HCJ members and the authority of DACK to influence the HCJ decisions. Particularly, the recordings prove the following:
- at least three members of the HCJ has improper relations with Pavlo Vovk;
- the HCJ members took its decisions on disciplinary cases under the pressure of Pavlo Vovk;
- the current HCJ composition opposes the HCJ reform and is fully controlled by Pavlo Vovk.
Importantly, NABU engaged experts who produced a forensic report proving that the voice recorded by NABU really belongs to Pavlo Vovk. At the same time, in 2019 Vovk appealed in court the authenticity of the records pretending that the tapes were edited. The thing is Vovk`s defence provided to the experts the recordings published by NABU for the general public and these recordings are actually edited and censored in some parts (because of expletive language). Vovk`s defence has access to the materials of the criminal case which contain the original recordings. However, they used the edited file to question the case.
Here is the brief description of new evidence brought by NABU.
- Vovk has relations with at least three members of the HCJ.
- Pavlo Hrechkivsky
NABU has recorded several conversations between Vovk and Hrechkivskii. There is an episode of 11 of March, 2019 when Vovk suggested to an HCJ member to create a coalition against some HCJ members including former head Ihor Benedysiuk who had won the competition for the Supreme Court and waited for the HCJ consideration. Vovk has mentioned Hrechkivsky few times during his talks with the DACK judges stating that Hrechkivskii “helps” to negotiate with other HCJ members and ensures the HCJ acts in the interests of the DACK (see cases below).
- Victor Hryshchuk
Hryshchuk was elected to the HCJ by the congress of legal educational establishments in March 2019. Importantly, Hryshchuk was delegated by a university that is under the control of the Ministry of Interior and there were huge discussions whether such universities can be admitted to the HCJ elections. There was a scandal at the congress when Illia Kyva took the floor and called the delegates to include the Ministry of Interior universities.
Later Hryshchuk`s appointment was appealed to DACK. As we see from the recordings Vovk ensured the case would be dismissed . Later Vovk agreed with Hryshchuk to jointly promote one candidate to the HCJ under the President`s quota.
- Oheh Prudyvus
NABU has also recorded Vovk`s conversations with Oleh Prudyvus. They discussed the appointment of Mykola Sirosh to the HQCJ by Ombudsman Denisova and that the process would be organized by Vovk. Prudyvus was surprised and told he was in good relations with Sirosh. The other time Vovk told Prudyvus DACK judges were going to ignore the qualification assessment. But the most important proof was that in August 2019 when the HCJ considered a plea to suspend Vovk from office, the Prosecutor General’s representative initiated Prudyvus` withdrawal from the consideration given their close relations with Vovk and the HCJ agreed with that argument.
- Using his relationship with HCJ members Vovk ensured the “right decisions” in disciplinary cases.
According to the recordings of 23 July 2019, Vovk with another DACK judge was drafting instructions on the disciplinary case on DACK judge Anna Kuzmenko noting the case has to be dismissed. On 24 July 2019, the HCJ Disciplinary Chamber composed of Andrii Ovsienko, Larysa Ivanova and Victor Matviichuk refused to open a disciplinary proceeding on judge Kuzmenko. The case was reported by HCJ member Larysa Shvetsova.
On 23 March 2019, Vovk discussed with his deputy Eugeny Ablov a disciplinary case against Ablov. Vovk expressed concerns regarding a rapporteur, HCJ member Tetiana Malashenkova. He told Ablov that HCJ member Pavlo Hrechkivskii had discussed the case with the chamber members Ihot Artemenko and Natalia Volkovytska. On 8 April 2019, the HCJ Disciplinary Chamber decided to dismiss. Ablov. However, on 10 December, 2019 after Malashenkova and Volkovytska were appointed to the Supreme Court the HCJ at the plenary sitting unanimously overruled the decision of the Disciplinary Chamber and reprimanded him instead.
Another example is the disciplinary case against Supreme Court judge Raisa Khanova. On 23 July 2019, Vovk complained to someone that HCJ member Mykola Khudyk is not opening a disciplinary case against Khanova. On 4 November 2019, the HCJ Disciplinary Chamber dismissed the case, although Khudyk as a rapporteur suggested opening disciplinary proceedings.
- Vovk stands behind the HCJ decisions on some Maidan judges, in particular DACK judges Bohdan Sanin and Yevgeny Ablov.
On 20 March 2019, Vovk told the judge of the Kyiv appellate administrative court that he helped judges of the DACK who prohibited peaceful assemblies during the Revolution of Dignity to avoid disciplinary responsibility. He was especially proud of the fact that the disciplinary case against judge Bohdan Sanin was closed because of “the absence of violation” while others were closed as the terms for bringings judges to responsibility expired.
The HCJ decision was taken by the current HCJ members: Oleksii Malovatsky, Pavlo Hrechkivsky.
- Vovk has close relations with deputy head of Kyiv appellate administrative court (The Sixth appellate administrative court, SAAC) Volodymyr Kuzmenko and some other judges, he helped them to avoid responsibility in a disciplinary case.
As we hear at the recordingі, Pavlo Vovk has close relations with some judges of the SAAC and uses his ties in the HCJ to help them avoid disciplinary responsibility. Moreover, NABU recorded Vovk`s conversation with some woman judge from the SAAC.
On 26 February 2019, Vovk discussed with the SAAC judge the disciplinary case against the DACK judge Andrii Fedorchuk and SAAC judges panel Vasylenko, Kuzmenko and Shurko. Vovk said the violations made by judges are too obvious and the case can be hardly dismissed. Vovk informed that he had discussed the case with Pavlo Hrechkivsky and suggested to him at least to sacrifice Fedorchuk (from other recordings we see Vovk does not have good relations with Fedorchuk) and not punish the SAAC panel. On 5 March 2019, Vovk told Hrechkivsky to remind Mykola Khudyk that the case had to be dismissed. The next day, on 6 March, the HCJ Disciplinary Chamber dismissed the case by refusing to bring all four judges to disciplinary responsibility. The decision was taken by Andrii Ovsienko, Mykola Khudyk, Larysa Shvetsova. Few days later Vovk told Fedorchuk that it was Hrechkivsky who helped to fix an issue. On 13 August 2019, the HCJ in plenary supported the decision of the chamber.
- Vovk tried to influence the appointment of the HCJ members by President`s quota
In April 2019, between the first and second rounds of the President`s elections the DACK forbade the former President Poroshenko to appoint two HCJ members by his quota. In summer 2019, Vovk discussed with the HCJ member Victor Hryshchuk the possible candidates to the HCJ. In particular, Vovk told that he wanted to promote Svyatoslav Pohranychnyi, chief editor of Sudovo-Yurydychna Gazeta, but he lacks legal experience needed for the HCJ member. They agreed with Hryshchuk to interview candidate Oleg Omelchuk and meet with him in June 2019 at Hilton Hotel where the HCJ presented its annual report on the independence of judiciary with the Council of Europe support. Later Vovk also agreed with Hryshchuk to visit the President’s Office on this issue.
- Vovk promoted the dismissal of Volodymyr Hovorukha from the post of the head of the HCJ
On 16 April 2019, the HCJ member Hrechkivsky informed Palvo Vovk that Volodymyr Hovoruha was elected the head of the HCJ. Vovk instructed the DACK judge to find procedural violations in the elections of Hovoruha.
In June 2019, Vovk sent (via one of the HCJ members related to Vovk) to the HCJ members the following message: “HCJ members won’t be touched if (a) they don’t oppose the dismissal of two members appointed by Poroshenko at the very last days of his term, and (b) they change the head of the HCJ.” In July 2019, Vovk in conversation with the HCJ member said that the HQCJ was done, the next one was the HCJ unless the HCJ members would change the head. Here is what Vovk said: “If Hovoruha is replaced, I think, by our joint efforts it will stop the process of the HCJ relaunch, because the HCJ composition is positive”.
As expected, on 1 September the HCJ refused to suspend Vovk and five other judges from the office. The decisions were taken unanimously behind the closed doors.