“Do you want to hear that I feel resistance? I don’t feel it”. The first big interview of the new head of the SAPO Oleksandr Klymenko

published by UP

The big interview is new and obviously uncomfortable thing for experienced detective and now prosecutor Oleksandr Klymenko. He has been investigating cases that were discussed by the whole country for a long time. But he never spoke about them publicly. Today, the new position obliges him to.

One year ago, at the end of 2021, Klymenko won the competition for the position of head of the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Then, unknown to the public detective of the NABU, who was engaged, in particular, in high-profile case of the deputy head of the OP Oleg Tatarov, was forced to talk to journalists for the first time.

Despite the fact that the competition commission actually determined the winner, it did not send his candidacy for an appointment for months.

Klymenko became the head of the SAPO only 7 months later, namely during the full-scale war in July 2022.

After 5 months he agreed to talk to Ukrayinska Pravda. This is his first big interview with Ukrainian media in his new position.

During the conversation, Klymenko avoided political topics in every possible way. When it came to the reform of the SAPO, there was sense of relief in his speech. He was happy to talk about how he wants to change the law. But he absolutely refused to comment on any details of investigations, even in general terms, and referred to the secrecy of investigation.

Ukrayinska Pravda did not leave in the final version some questions, for instance, about the case of Privatbank and investigation of salaries in envelopes, given that Klymenko did not answer anything but: “I can’t comment it“.

At the end of interview, he said that perhaps the SAPO even needs the head whom the society will not know at all. And this phrase, probably, speaks about Klymenko the most.

It significantly distinguishes him from his predecessor Nazar Kholodnytskyi. Time and realities of Ukrainian authorities will show whether Klymenko remains this way.

Will Klymenko punish those who closed high-profile cases?

– We talked to you earlier this year when your appointment was still questionable. And you said then that the SAPO needed audit. It was necessary to examine proceedings, in particular those that had been closed. What has been audited since then?

– I slightly overestimated my powers because I thought that we could conduct this audit as quickly as possible. It is ongoing. We have already audited about 90% of the NABU’s criminal proceedings. But about 10% are still ongoing.

First of all, we took those where terms of either pre-trial investigation or statute of limitations are approaching.

– Do you personally examine them?

 This is done through hearings, joint meetings. Either only prosecutors, or with prosecutors and detectives. It depends on the position. In most cases, the position of both the detective and the prosecutor is common. We try to hold the big meeting if there are differences in views.

– What cases have already been resumed during this time, except for the Rotterdam+ case? Can you name few more such cases?

– I think it will harm the investigation.

That means that there are no suspicions in these cases yet, aren’t there?

– Yes. We do not have a lot of closed cases with suspicions. These are single cases.

As for Rotterdam+. When you announced the resumption of investigation, it was stated that inconsistencies and shortcomings were found in the work of the prosecutor. Was this fourfold closure unjustified?

– In my opinion, it was illegal and unjustified.

– If so, will prosecutors bear any responsibility for the illegal decision?

– Responsibility for decision-making is reviewed by higher-level prosecutor. There are consequences. Namely, either the group of prosecutors changes or remains the same.

If the decision is recognized as illegal, then, accordingly, the group must be changed. I do not know why the group has not been changed before, when the decision on closure was cancelled.

– So, the responsibility is purely in the fact that prosecutors don’t work on this case? I mean not only the Rotterdam+ case. Is it possible not just to open the proceeding, but to clean the system from those people who hindered the investigation for a long time before your arrival?

– In fact, the evidence base was collected in the proceeding. It was investigated.

Moreover, the term for bringing the prosecutor to disciplinary responsibility is one year. These decisions were made in 2020-2021. That means that more than one year has already passed.

Does Klymenko feel opposition?

– How does the system resist you to review and resume cases?

– I do not feel any opposition in my work today. Please, explain what you mean by resistance.

– Perhaps there are people inside the prosecutor’s office who oppose your ideas. Perhaps you are under pressure from outside, from other bodies.

– The staff is professional here. It has passed competitive selection. If the prosecutor sees the problem in any proceeding, we try to solve it in order to move on. Or, for instance, we come to the same conclusion that there is no prospect in the criminal proceeding and it is not worth spending resources.

– For instance, the case of MP Oleksandr Trukhin. Another person was found guilty in scandalous accident. But the NABU suspects MP of offering the bribe. At the moment when the NABU detectives came to seize documents from the patrol police, they started to format hard drives on which the video from the patrol policeman’s body camera was stored. Was there such situation?

– These are details of the pre-trial investigation.

– It was announced in the court.

– During the selection of preventive measure?

– Yes. How often do you face resistance at this level?

– What do you mean?

– This is direct obstruction, namely the attempt to destroy evidence, committed by the police.

– There are peculiarities of evidence collection in each criminal proceeding. We cannot say that this is resistance. They motivate it with certain regulatory documents. 

If there was fact of destruction of evidence, we would register the criminal proceeding.

Do you want to hear from me that I feel any resistance? I do not feel any opposition.

Did Klymenko meet with Tatarov?

– When your appointment was in limbo, it was associated with the fact that you came there as independent candidate who had worked with high-profile cases. What was the turning point? How do you explain it to yourself?

– It is difficult for me to say. You should ask the competition commission what was the turning point for them to end the competition.

I do not understand what was the turning point. Just at one point the competition began to move quite quickly.

– Did you meet with anyone from the Office of the President before your appointment?

– No.

– And after? Have you met with Oleg Tatarov, who supervises the law enforcement system?

– No. I had a meeting with representatives of the Office of the President during the meeting of the working group on accession of Ukraine to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s it.

– Do politicians come to see you? Not for questioning, but, I mean, to you personally as the head?

– I do not have personal reception. And did I communicate with MPs? Yes. We talked about changes to the legislation. We receive proposals, we process them, give our suggestions.

That’s all we talked about. I am unpopular for politicians.

The NABU doesn’t have Tatarov’s case for a long time. But not so long ago, the NABU once again detained the subject of that case, the developer Maksym Mykytas. And we heard that there was allegedly witness who had given some testimony against Tatarov. Is this true?

– Where did you hear that? I didn’t hear that.

– So it is not true?

– I have no possibility to comment on the course of any pre-trial investigation, which is currently ongoing. The case you are talking about, about giving illegal advantage to the Mayor of the city (according to the investigation, Mykytas offered the bribe to Dnipro Mayor Borys Filatov – UP), is being actively investigated.

– Does Mykytas testify on other episodes?

– I can’t tell you that.

What Klymenko says (doesn’t say) about “big construction” and embezzlement of humanitarian aid in Zaporizhzhya

– We have heard from our interlocutors in the government that anti-corruption agencies are actively examining another deputy head of the OP Kyryl Tymoshenko. In particular, the story regarding “Big Construction”. Is it being investigated today?

– We do not have criminal proceedings against certain persons. We have criminal proceeding on certain facts.

Are we investigating facts regarding the “Big Construction”? Yes, we are. The pre-trial investigation of these criminal proceedings is ongoing. No one has received suspicion.

– Can you tell us what exactly is being investigated regarding the “Big Construction”? In general terms. What are these episodes?

– No.

They say that suspicions are being prepared specifically for Tymoshenko, the head of Dnipropetrovsk Regional State Administration Valentyn Reznichenko and the curator of the “Big Construction” Yuriy Golyk.

– I do not know where you get such information.

Is it not true or do you not want to comment?

– We have many pre-trial investigations. As for the fact whether we are preparing suspicions or not, we cannot give such comments.

– Did you question these people?

– I repeat to you once again…

– I am only asking about the fact of interrogation.

– The fact of conducting this or that investigative action also cannot be disclosed. And my position is as follows: we must comment on the result, report to the public on the result. Interrogation of certain persons is not the result of work.

– And what is the result for you?

– The result begins from the moment when enough evidence is collected to announce suspicion to the person. We try to be as meticulous as possible in collecting evidence so that there are no questions about its justification.

– During this time you have been in office, by what parameters do you evaluate the result of your work?

– The result of work of the prosecutor’s office is the consideration of cases in court and the adoption of final decision by courts. 

– Are there any cases that you consider illustrative?

– All cases are important for us. There is no such thing that this case is more important than another.

– When you applied for the position, the situation in the country was completely different. Today, corruption and fight against it have somehow changed in view of the full-scale war?

– In fact, ways and methods of committing corruption offences remain, the same. Corruption does not take a break for rest. 

– Are there any investigations and how many stories about the theft of humanitarian aid? We know about such investigation against regional and city authorities of Zaporizhzhya. Can you tell us about others? In general terms. 

– We have investigations in absolutely all areas. There are several such proceedings. We have not announced suspicion to anyone yet. What are the results of this pre-trial investigation? Time will pass. And we will see these results.

– Can you say how justified the story in Zaporizhzhya is? Let’s not talk about specific persons. But can we talk about facts?

– This will be the result of this pre-trial investigation. Time will tell.

Will there be extradition of persons involved in the “Vienna Battalion”?

– Is there problem of leaking information to those involved in investigations and how urgent is it? For instance, that suspicion is being prepared? 

– I do not know that there are confirmed facts that there is leakage of information.

– Recently, our journalist filmed in Vienna former head of the National Bank Kyryl Shevchenko, who had been declared wanted. Was the fact how and when he crossed the border investigated? Is it connected with suspicion? Perhaps someone warned him.

– I do not have such fact yet. If we had facts about leakage by certain persons, we would react and inform the General Inspectorate about it.

– Are there any requests, in particular to Vienna, regarding extradition of those who are recorded by journalists now? In addition to Shevchenko, there was Hranovskyi, for instance.

– This is one of stages of necessary improvement of the legislation. In fact, head of the SAPO has no authority to approve extradition requests. 

This is done by the Prosecutor General or his authorized person. Expanding powers of head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office in this part is important. In proceedings involving entire schemes, organized criminal groups, some suspects are abroad. And even organization of international search requires guarantees that the Prosecutor General’s Office will apply for extradition.

This guarantee could be provided only by the Prosecutor General. The law needs to be improved in this part. We have examples when extradition requests from the NABU, agreed by the SAPO prosecutors, have not been sent since 2016-2017. And only after the change of the Prosecutor General, the appointment of new one in 2022, these requests were sent. 

Can you give the example? What cases are we talking about? What people?

– No, I can’t. We need the result of this extradition. 

– Do subjects know about these changes?

– No. The request should come. And when they detain him, he will know. 

– How many cases are we talking about when extradition requests were pending for a long time?

– Approximately in 5 criminal proceedings for sure.

– Have you initiated extradition in recent cases, like with Shevchenko?

– This is a complicated process. And it is ongoing. In order to apply for extradition, it is necessary to establish the location of a person.

– There are photos that people are in Vienna. Are you contacting your Austrian colleagues to confirm this? Are you checking this public information?

– We check all information. Forms and methods of search are not public.

In what way does Klymenko want more independence for the SAPO?

 Is it your position to choose statements carefully, not to make political statements, etc.

– I am limited in my statements. We have relevant regulations, code of professional ethics what we can and cannot comment on.

We do not have such freedom of expression as journalists or persons holding political positions. Therefore, it is not only my conscious position, it is requirements of regulations.

– Is your position not political? One year ago you said that it should be changed.

– My position is not political, that’s for sure. At present, I think the SAPO is effective tool in the fight against top corruption for our country. Yes, legislative changes are needed for seven years since formation.

What changes

– The first is to improve the competitive selection for the position of head of the SAPO. The competition should be held as quickly as possible, so there is no long time when the SAPO is without its head. Improvement of competitive selection for ordinary employees.

The important element is both administrative and procedural independence of the SAPO. Administrative independence is the creation of legal entity independent from the Prosecutor General’s Office.

Procedural independence is the expansion of powers. Since there are contradictions in the legislation regarding the same MPs. They are subjects of the NABU investigations, but head of the SAPO and any of the bureau’s employees cannot enter information into the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations (only the Prosecutor General can initiate investigation against MP – Ukrayinska Pravda).

Of course, this slows down the process of investigation of criminal proceedings in this particular area.

Why does it slow down the process? Only because you formally have to go to the Prosecutor General’s Office?

– Approval of documents has huge impact on the investigation. I am not saying that we do not approve them, but the process is longer than the approval in the SAPO. Because the Prosecutor General cannot cover and know everything, study all criminal proceedings. 

– Are there cases when the Prosecutor General asks you to give him the opportunity to study some cases? The previous head of the SAPO told about the fact that the Prosecutor General asked him to read the top cases.

– No, we do not have such cases. When we approve the appeal, then we report about it and justify it. But there has never been the case when criminal proceedings were demanded.

– You said that administrative independence of the SAPO itself is also needed. Why is it necessary if, as you say, there is no opposition?

– The entire anti-corruption infrastructure, namely the NABU, the NACP, are separate institutions, full-fledged, independent. And we are the structural unit of the Prosecutor General’s Office. And this slows down our development, in my opinion.

We cannot introduce proper evaluation of the same prosecutors, because it should apply to all prosecutors of the Office. The same document flow, the secret department are the jurisdiction of the Prosecutor General’s Office, these are not employees of the SAPO.

– Do I understand you correctly that the need to expand powers is not about avoiding risks that may arise due to the accountability to the Prosecutor General’s Office? It is about making the work process simpler.

– Not simpler. It should be more effective. My main task as head of the SAPO is to make this institution as efficient and independent as possible so that no one can influence it in future.

– Have you thought for yourself in which case you are ready to step over public neutrality? If there is obstacle at the high political level, as in the case of Tatarov, are you ready to declare it publicly?

– It is better not to comment on such possible scenario. I am sure that everything will be fine, that we in the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office will achieve great results.

– It depends not only on you, you do not work in a vacuum.

– It depends on the working law, on professional actions of detectives, prosecutors, judges. These are results of the fight against corruption. And I am sure that they will be and will be interesting.

– At the beginning of the year, you said that the SAPO prosecutors did not bring many cases to court. Do you have the same opinion today? Or do you see the justification of this pace nowadays?

– It is impossible to compare the number of transferred criminal proceedings in 2021 and in 2022, because we did not work at all for certain period of time. But I think that the number of cases sent to court will increase.

This is also due to the increase of staff. Namely, the competition is ongoing today, we will be able to select 8 prosecutors. But, on the other hand, 13 employees, 12 prosecutors and one civil servant, mobilized at their own will. As of February 24, they are in the Armed Forces. And this is the fourth part of our staff. 

– Do you have specific goal of what results would you like to achieve in a year or by the end of your term? In the criteria that you define for yourself.

– I do not have specific numbers. One criminal proceeding can be sent to court with one accused. Or maybe there are 15 accused, 10 episodes and the amount of damage is huge. These criminal proceedings cannot be compared.

The main thing is to increase efficiency of work. And to make the SAPO as independent as possible. So that regardless of who the head is, it would work and show results. Even if there is no head.

Perhaps, even without anyone knowing who the head is. It does not have to be some media person who will go to interviews, shows and talk about this or that criminal proceeding, how the investigation is going, who was questioned, who said what. In my opinion, this harms the institution.

Interviewed by Sonya Lukashova

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