Servants of cash: the biggest corruption scandals of Zelenskyi’s era

by Vadym Valko, originally published on UP

There have been at least three high-profile scandals since the beginning of the year regarding possible bribery at various levels of the party the Servant of the People.

It is not surprising that representatives of current government are accused of corruption, and there are even advantages of this. For instance, this means that there are no untouchables and sooner or later the responsibility will lie with everyone who takes or gives bribes. 

Moreover, even the President stated once that there would be no exceptions for “their” people when considering corruption cases, and if “a person took at least some bribe, even one hryvnia, he should be put in jail. I don’t care which party this would be, whether the Servant of the People or another one”.

But on the other hand, dynamics of detention of servants suggests that the problem is systemic and there are actually many bribe-takers in power.

Remarkable are dozens of statements to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine about possible receipt of salaries “in envelopes” by Members of Parliament. 

In general, in last two years there have been so many corruption stories regarding pro-government Members of Parliament and officials that some are started to be forgotten. That is why it will be useful to record and remind the biggest of them.

“Goodies” of MP Yurchenko

In early September 2020, detectives of the NABU announced exposing of Member of Parliament from the party the Servant of the People Oleksandr Yurchenko, who allegedly demanded 13,000 USD for making necessary amendments to the draft law.  

In tape-recordings of conversations subjects veiledly call the illicit benefit as “goodies” and “a piece of a big pie” and describe in detail the “legislative” work of the Parliament:

“Where do these draft laws come from? Members of Parliament write them?! Forget it … They say we need the law on lobbying, so that we pay taxes, so that everyone will come to us. Then, I read what they came up with in the law on lobbying: “Well, fuck you **”. I’d better come and say: “Guys, we need this amendment and everyone will receive 5. How many of you? Ten ? Fifty! I say seventy. Twenty for myself and five for each of you. Good? Good! Deal”.

At first, the suspicion for Member of Parliament was blocked by the Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, who had refused to sign it. But after public outcry and exposure of manipulations, she was forced to change her position.

By the way, materials of the case also referred to 200,000 USD, which were allegedly demanded for bribing Members of Parliament-members of the profile committee, but other participants of the scheme could not be exposed because the information about investigation was “leaked”. As of now, the case against Yurchenko is already on trial and investigation of evidence has started.

Rescue of Tatarov

In December 2020, the NABU and the SAPO announced suspicion to deputy head of the Office of President Oleg Tatarov. 

The investigation had indisputable evidence of Tatarov’s alleged involvement in transfer of the bribe in the form of parking space. The property was allegedly transferred for falsifying conclusions of the forensic examination, which concerned fraud in the purchase of apartments for the National Guard. 

But with the help of the Prosecutor General Venediktova, her deputy Symonenko, prosecutor of the PGO Grytsan, the SBU, the SBI, Pecherskyi, Shevchenkivskyi and other courts, the case was “successfully” buried. 

Well, it is obvious that this could not be done without personal consent of Volodymyr Zelenskyi. After all, how else to explain the fact that the official, who most likely has been involved in transfer of bribes, still works in his Office.

150,000 bonuses from MP Trukhin

In early February, Ukrayinska Pravda published investigation regarding circumstances of the accident involving Member of Parliament from the party the Servant of the People Oleksandr Trukhin. 

In video released from body camera of patrol officers who arrived at the scene, Member of Parliament offered the police 150,000 as a bonus. “I’ll give you 150 just in case. Leave yourself as a bonus”. 

To remarks of the patrolman that all words of Member of Parliament were recorded by video camera, Trukhin replied: “150 sweets, chocolates, f**k, cookies, everything f**k”.

On the next morning after investigation, Member of Parliament was expelled from the party, and the Prosecutor General Venediktova registered the criminal proceeding and determined the jurisdiction of the NABU. The proceeding concerns alleged granting by Member of Parliament of illegal benefit to the official of the law enforcement agency.

According to editor-in-chief of Ukrayinska Pravda Sevgil Musayeva, Oleksandr Trukhin was covered. In particular, the head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs Denys Monastyrskyi saw the video from the scene of accident with Member of Parliament few days after the event, but the police for some reason did not transfer this video as evidence to the State Bureau of Investigation.

Half a million of “tugriks” of MP Kuzminych

At the end of January, detectives of the NABU together with investigators of the SBI exposed Member of Parliament Sergiy Kuzminych from the party the Servant of the People for possible bribery in the amount of 558,000 UAH.

The published video of conversations between Member of Parliament and representative of the private company states about “30% payoffs” for securing victories in tenders for the supply of medical equipment to hospitals in Zhytomyr region. 

The video also shows that Kuzmin was asked on the eve of transfer of money in which currency it was more convenient for him to receive them, and Member of Parliament said:Even in tugriks, I don’t care.

“Augean stables” of counsellor of Kyiv City Council Trubitsyn

On February 9, 2022, the NABU detained counsellor of Kyiv City Council from the party the Servant of the People Vladyslav Trubitsyn for the bribe in the amount of 1.26 million UAH.

According to detectives, the counsellor and his five accomplices, including the director of the municipal enterprise and two his deputies, organized the scheme for private companies to win tenders for placing street vending places in different parts of Kyiv. 

The head of the political party the Servant of the People immediately convened extraordinary conference of Kyiv city organization to consider the incident and make appropriate decisions regarding the counsellor.

Vladyslav Trubitsyn holds the position of head of the Standing Committee on Entrepreneurship, Industry and Urban Development in Kyiv City Council.

In the interview last year he stated that he had started to clean up the “Augean stables” of pop-up vending in Kyiv:

“There is problem with pop-up vending in the capital, with gray business, so to speak. For many years they closed their eyes to this. I decided that these Augean stables should be cleaned. Besides, the situation with holding fairs in Kyiv is not the best. That is why it was decided to appoint one municipal enterprise as organizer of seasonal fairs.

Blocking the case of MP Halimon

At the end of September 2020, journalists of the program Schemes published the article entitled “The Guardian of the Untouchables?”, which was about how the Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova blocked investigation against Member of Parliament from the party the Servant of the People Pavlo Khalimon. 

This was done despite audio recordings in which Member of Parliament and his trustee allegedly offered former Member of Parliament and agro-baron from Chernigiv Oleg Dmytrenko to solve the problem with law enforcement agencies and assist in doing business in exchange for 40 million UAH and further cooperation. Namely: 30 now and 10 after harvesting corn. And then, 50/50 if you want to continue working.

The response to journalists, which was later provided by the NABU, stated that “the study of the above-mentioned audio recordings confirmed circumstances specified in the statement of extortion of illicit benefit in the amount of 40 million UAH by Member of Parliament of Ukraine”, but “refusal of the Prosecutor General to submit information on this fact in the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations made it impossible to obtain evidence of illegal activities of Member of Parliament of Ukraine in lawful manner”.

1.8 million UAH for the head of Kirovograd Regional State Administration

In summer 2020, security service officera detained the head of Kirovograd Regional State Administration Andriy Balon.

According to the prosecution, Balon and his assistant offered the head of the Regional State Food and Consumer Service to provide them with 1.8 million UAH in exchange for assistance in their work and refusal to initiate the dismissal. The case is currently being considered in the court.

By the way, in November 2019, the first deputy head of the Office of the President Sergiy Trofimov came to represent Andriy Balon at the position of head of the regional state administration. And Balon himself stated that he would continue reforms initiated by the President and the Government in order to give Kirovograd region a new life.

In July 2021, one year after arrest, the accused former head of Kirovograd Regional State Administration was noticed among participants of the congress of the All-Ukrainian Association of Communities, where the head of the party the Servant of the People Oleksandr Korniyenko was also present.

170,000 USD through the advisor of MP

In 2020, on the International Anti-Corruption Day, the NABU and the SBU detained acting head of the Main Department of the State Geocadastre in Khmelnytskyi region Yuriy Klymko and his proxy Oleksiy Kovalyov.

According to the prosecution, they offered 170,000 USD to the head of the State Service for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre for assistance of split-up of state lands. They were detained during transfer of the next tranche in the amount of 25,000 USD. 

Later, it became known that mediator was the advisor to Member of Parliament from the party the Servant of the People Oleksiy Zhmerenetskyi from Khmelnytskyi region. 

According to media, during the time of Yanukovych Kovalyov was the adviser to former head of the State Geocadastre and allegedly owns companies that provide services to this state body.

2.6 million UAH for the head of the amalgamated territorial community from Kyiv region

In May 2021, the prosecutor’s office announced exposing of Volodymyr Pidkurgannyi, head of Dymer amalgamated territorial community in Kyiv region, who had acted in cooperation with member of district council and a proxy.

According to the prosecutor’s office, money was allegedly demanded for assistance with the allocation of land and change of its purpose for industrial production.

The Servant of the People party, on behalf of which Pidkurgannyi ran in elections, immediately stated that he should resign, and the head of regional branch Andriy Motovylovets stated that they could not check the integrity of each candidate because it was not about past events, but about intentions for the future. 

He also reminded that Oleksandr Dubinskyi was responsible for the selection of candidates in Kyiv region, the latter is currently under the US sanctions.

40,000 USD to MP for non-realization of threats

In April 2021, the SBU detained Yuriy Budyuk, counsellor of Boryspil District Council from the Servants of the People, for allegedly extorting 40,000 USD. He allegedly threatened to deprive notary Olena Sazonova of her certification and help remove her from the Unified Register of Notaries due to artificial accusations of dishonesty. 

The SBU states that money to the counsellor was transferred through the currency exchange office, and in future, he allegedly planned to convert them into cryptocurrency to hide traces. 

The case is currently considered by Solomyanskyi District Court of Kyiv. 

The most interesting thing is that on the website of the district council Budyuk is still listed in lists of the political party Servant of the People.

10% payoff for the head of the amalgamated territorial community

In November 2020, the SBU announced exposing the head of one of the amalgamated ted territorial communities in Zakarpattya region. According to investigation, the official demanded 10% payoff from the winner of tender for the repair of local roads.

The message immediately appeared in telegram of the Office of the President that head of the amalgamated territorial community in Volovets Mykhaylo Popelych, selected from the Servant of the People, had been detained. Zelenskyi stated he was “waiting for fair decisions for all those accustomed to living on bribes, and days when belonging to the ruling party was indulgence in the pursuit of corruption and other crimes are long gone”.

Seven-figure bribe in Kharkiv regional council 

In August 2021, detectives announced suspicion to the head of Kharkiv Regional Council Artur Tovmasyan, who at that time represented local faction Servants of the People. 

According to investigation, he together with his then deputy Andriy Malysh (representative of the party Opposition Platform For Life) and proxy-lawyer demanded more than one million hryvnias from the director of the communal enterprise to keep him in office.

Later, Tovmasyan resigned from position of head of the regional council and was expelled from the faction. 

At the beginning of this year, the High Anti-Corruption Court extended the term of pre-trial investigation until May 22, as investigators in the case have not yet received the number of forensic reports.

***

Personnel policy has never been the strong point of the Servants of the People.

Constant scandals are clear confirmation of this, and above-mentioned cases only indicate that Zelenskyi’s team has great problems with compliance of one of the main points of the election program: “eradication of systemic corruption”.  On the contrary, its systematicity even increases a little.

Moreover, some government officials are constantly throwing a monkey wrench in the works of anti-corruption bodies. For instance, many months blocking of the competition for position of the head of the SAPO and attempts to demolish the competition for position of the director of the NABU at its start.  

If Zelenskyi really wants to fight corruption, there should be no people like Tatarov in the Office of the President, and all competitions should be unblocked immediately. Until that happens, there can be no question of any faith in sincerity of intentions of Zelenskyi’s team to fight corruption. 

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