ZE!CORRUPTION OR OLD SCHEMES OF THE “NEW FACES” ERA

Originally published on Ukrainska Prava on September 23, 2020

“He who fights monsters must be careful not to become a monster himself.”

Friedrich Nietzsche

“Could we imagine that his “enrichment of people” would be the enrichment of only his people”?

Volodymyr Zelenskyi, debates at “Olympiyskyi

In January 2020, one event took place. Ukraine lost six positions in global ranking of perception corruption and appeared at the same level as it held in 2017.

This fact itself was not brand new information. Its importance had different nature, namely symbolic.

It turned out that during first six months of work of the new President Volodymyr Zelenskyi, who had unprecedented monopoly in “turbo regime”, Ukraine has fallen to the heyday of Petro Poroshenko’s regime regarding level of corruption.

Time of Kononenko-Granovskyi, Gladkovskyi and the judge Vovk, “Rotterdam+” and “Ukroboronprom -” … In short, everything that candidate Zelenskyi criticized so mercilessly.

However, in January 2020, the above-mentioned rating caused certain dissonance, as at that time the new government somehow was not the subject of any really serious corruption scandal. Therefore, it seemed that claims of compilers of the rating could be addressed to the new government only “in advance” because Zelenskyi did not work for the whole year.

But the new team began to implement these “advances” very quickly. In less than a few months of shocking 2020, new representatives of Ze!Team began to appear as subjects of journalistic investigations, and later in criminal cases of law enforcement officers.

Perhaps the story of Member of Parliament of the Servant of the People Oleksandr Yurchenko was the most telling. The saga of “seller of parliamentary amendments” instantly refreshed memory regarding another case, namely regarding the NABU against Boryslav Rozenblat in 2017.

In fact, the case against Member of Parliament of Zelenskyi’s faction turned out to be almost banal copy of the case against Member of Parliament from Poroshenko’s team.

The only difference is that “new” political face became the head of “old” corruption singlethread.

Unfortunately, this formula can be memorized. Even brief analysis shows that principle “new” faces to “old” schemes” is gradually becoming decisive in the political life of the new team.

You can already notice the appearance of “his Akhmetov”, “his Kononenko”, “his Rozenblat” in Zelenskyi’s environment. And if the President does not change the situation quickly, the appearance of “his Svynarchuk” will only be the matter of time.

Meanwhile, Ukrayinska Pravda offers to look closer at the phenomenon of corruption of Volodymyr Zelenskyi’s era.

Not-Poroshenko

Once at press conference Volodymyr Zelenskyi answered to the question how he differs from the previous President in following way:

“I am completely different from Poroshenko. I am honest and deeply worried about this country”.

In the context of conversation about corruption, these words of current head of state are often heard in conversations with people from Zelenskyi’s environment, his fellow party members or even opponents. 

Dozens of interviewees from various political camps, with whom UP spoke in order to write this article, almost all agreed that personal gain is not motivation for Zelenskyi’s actions. 

“Personally Vova does not steal. That’s for sure. But there has been some kind of “decentralization of corruption”. Lower classes realized that they should not bring money to the “top”, and everyone makes “a killing” exclusively for themselves. But with special enthusiasm and cynicism”, one of already dismissed but until recently close to Zelenskyi official tells us not for the record.

Sudden resignations of the most influential ally Andriy Bogdan, the Prime Minister Oleksiy Goncharuk, dozen of ministers, the Prosecutor General, etc., contributed to this to no small degree. Such measures could have educational function for the above-mentioned “lower classes”, allegedly no one will hold the position forever.

But the effect was the opposite. Before the threat of possible loss of the position at any moment, middle-class officials, on the contrary, burst into “last dance” and try to get the biggest piece of a pie.

“Zelenskyi has shown that his people count for nothing in political sense. The strongest are very easily blown away. So, you should not go to someone to ask for “cover”, you just have to make “a killing:. That’s what everyone is doing little by little”, top official of Kuchma’s and Yanukovych’s era explains logic of the state machine.

Bogdan, former head of the Office of the President of Ukraine, said something similar in his scandalous interview.

“I called everyone, ministers, Members of Parliament, and said one phrase: “Look, we don’t have “cover“. We will not give you anything. Moreover, if you get caught, we will do everything we can to put you in jail… Because how does corruption exist? I appoint you and give you “cover from law enforcement officers, and you share illegal pillage with me. And if I take away “cover“, then you will earn at your own risk”, explained former head of the OPU.

And it turned out that there are a lot of officials capable to take such “risk”. This is where “judges Vovks” came from, who are ready to “solve cases” seriously under new conditions. 

The case regarding Vovk is even worse. The Office of the President tried to solve problems of needed by all authorities “judge” quietly, but it turned out to be so loud that they fell across very painful article in the western press column of Financial Times.

The desire to “take a risk until last” is made by heads of courts, who are not tired to earn even few thousands of dollars. Everyone takes, so to speak, “pro re nata”. But everyone takes. 

The journalist Oleksa Shalaiskyi precisely stated that “the lack of coherent power vertical allowed each official to feel like autonomous satrap in the entrusted territory: “he invented the scheme himself and implemented it himself”.

Those who were used to govern this country themselves and use people in power as a tool felt even greater freedom. The oligarchic groups with which previous President fought for spheres of influence and profit felt great relief after the change of power. 

In fact, every major beneficiary of Poroshenko’s defeat managed to get something from the winner.

Someone, like Rinat Akhmetov, flatters and falls in love with himself, buys 300 vehicles of “emergency ambulance” for villages, generously gives money to maintain the party, and at some point middle manager from his holding receives the main position at the Cabinet of Ministers.

“The Office and the faction, although Rinat doesn’t have anyone of his own there, receives about 2-2.5 million USD per month. It’s clear that he’s a friend”, said one large businessman not for the record.

The oligarch’s press service later called it “absolute lie”, which causes damage to Rinat Akhmetov’s business reputation. They reminded that businessman has not been involved in politics since 2012 and is focused on charity and development of football club Shakhtar.

At the same time, the new Prime Minister Denys Shmygal, as well as Acting Minister of Energy Olga Buslavets, are trying hard to show that they have nothing to do with defending Akhmetov’s interests.

But there is “bloc” to criticize “not their” Prime Minister at all channels of Akhmetov’s media group, and issues regarding tariffs for green energy or thermal power plants are resolved much more dynamically and much more efficiently than regarding state Energoatom. And this greatly undermines faith in non-Akhmetov Prime Minister or Minister.

Some of oligarchs, such as Igor Kolomoyskyi, conducted force check by seizing control over state Centerenergo faster than the Office of the President was able to figure out how to call to the State Property Fund. He took it and does not give it back.

It turns out that this is possible, as well as the fact that there is no force in the country capable to resist such actions. And it sends signal to act for dozens and hundreds of others, smaller businessmen and ordinary grabbers.

It is not enough just to stop firing in cases concerning peace. And when it comes to fighting corruption, it is not enough for the President not to steal himself. He must guarantee that the rest will not steal as well.

Otherwise, his personal difference from predecessor will be quickly neutralized by identity of habits of his environment.

Their Kononenkos

During Petro Poroshenko’s era people from his closest political environment were subjects of most part of corruption scandals.

The first and one of the loudest was the story that gave Ukrainian politics the meme “I am from Kononenko”. One of closest to then President Member of Parliament allegedly tried to impose the candidacy of deputy to the Minister of Economy.

Later, appetites of the environment began to grow and the name of Kononenko and others close to him began to be heard in more areas and schemes: road construction and road fund, Odessa port plant, Centerenergo and others.

After selection of Zelenskyi, there appeared people in his office and his environment who in previous life were very far from the supply of gas to the OPU, as well as from organization of fictitious tenders for the construction of roads.

The situation began to change dramatically in new life. The amount of concentrated power and, accordingly, opportunities turned out to be too tempting not to try to take advantage of it.

It is not clear whether current head of the OPU Andriy Yermak knows the story “I am from Kononenko”, but he could catch its essence instantly. Personnel is the main resource that Yermak is currently trying to master.

Even before he managed to drive out his predecessor from position, Yermak was already one of three people who had decided staff of Denys Shmygal’s government.

But “staff” issues started to interest Yermak earlier. He wrestle the first place in Ze!Team for “his” person in summer 2019.

“There was meeting in the OPU in Kyiv regarding whom to put as majoritarians. And they wanted to put one of prosecutor’s person, very odious one in 219 district. Everyone started to protest. 

And then a man stood up from the second row behind Zelenskyi, it was Yermak. And he said that “I have candidate to this district, the media one, it will be easy to sell him. This is Kolya Tyshchenko”. 

Zelenskyi looked like that, raised his hands and kissed his biceps, showing off Tyshchenko. “This Kolya? He’s stupid!”, one of participants of that meeting said, which ended successfully for Tyshchenko be the way.

It ended so successfully that he is now, in fact, the second person in Kyiv faction the Servant of the People. He prepares the party for elections to Kyiv City Council and allocates positions to “right” people.

In early March, Member of Parliament Geo Leros found out that not only Andriy Borysovych in Yermak’s family but also his younger brother Denys is interested in staff issues.

On video recordings published by Member of Parliament, Yermak junior sells promises to different people regarding appointment to state positions. It seems that his older brother had to help him.

No. This did not lead to dismissal of Yermak senior. On the contrary, since then he has only increased his influence over the President Zelenskyi.

In recent months the name of head of the OPU has been mentioned after almost every important appointment. The Minister of Defense, the Minister of Sports, the Minister of Strategic Sectors of the Economy, the Prosecutor General, and several Members of Parliament are Yermak’s “assets” that he managed to collect as of fall 2020.

According to UP, now the interest of head of the OPU is gradually being transferred to the sphere of defense-industrial complex, the SAPO, etc., where he is trying to incorporate his people.

Throughout previous history of Independence, such accumulation of human resources in most cases passed into the stage of “initial accumulation of capital”, which were followed by loud scandals, and in special cases protests and Maydans. The current head of the OPU has chance to check for himself whether this historical pattern still works.

Sometimes one daredevil, who is not afraid to show everyone the message “I’m from Yermak”, is enough.

The rest of the President’s closest environment is not as publicly active as Yermak. However, there are no less delicate areas which they have shared.

For instance, first assistant to the President Sergiy Shefir, who was recorded by journalists at meetings with the oligarch Igor Kolomoyskyi, according to the UP, is responsible for two areas by Zelenskyi.

Shefir is person who, on the one hand, is some kind of tuning fork for Ze. He defines “what is good and what is bad”. On the other hand, Shefir deals with all issues where big “quiet” money is and communication with oligarchs”, one of oligarchs told UP.

Interlocutors of UP point to two large state enterprises where Zelenskyi’s Shefir is allegedly responsible for the “welfare” of them. Namely: Odessa port plant and Energoatom.

In February, before the quarantine, Odessa port plant was “temporarily” headed by Mykola Synytsya without any competition. Around that time, AgroGasTrading became the main supplier of gas to Odessa port plant under the “toll” scheme. Interlocutors of UP in the gas market also link this company’s success with Shefir.

Another state giant Energoatom also has in its leadership the man who, according to UP’s sources, is close to Shefir. This is the Vice President for development of the company German Galushchenko.

There were always political wars regarding control over these two above-mentioned enterprises in Ukraine. During Poroshenko’s era people from his environment, most often from Kononenko, were called creators of toll schemes at Odessa port plant. They brought huge profits to supply companies and the same losses to the enterprise. It happened in the same 2017.

Ironically, the Road Fund began to operate in the same year, thanks to which the pace of road construction in Ukraine began to increase. Many started then projects are being completed by the new government. And they call it the program of the President Volodymyr Zelenskyi “Velyke Budivnytstvo”. 

Yermak’s deputy Kyrylo Tymoshenko in close cooperation with management of Ukravtodor is responsible for this project. Not so long time ago his competence was reduced to media support of the President. But when Mykhaylo Podolyak came to the OPU, Tymoshenko turned from media figure into “great construction worker”.

This could be considered as increase, if not to mention constant corruption scandals regarding construction of roads.

During recent months the cartel of several companies has been formed. Ukravtodor does not allow their competitors to take part in tenders under various pretexts and allows its “minions” to handle billions at fake tenders. The highlight of these “tenders” is regular discount given by the winner, namely 3% from the starting price.

Three groups of companies, in fact, divided areas where they won tenders. Rumors about the price of love for selected companies are constantly heard in construction market. It costs up to 20% of pay back. Velyke Budivnytstvo is ongoing, roads are being built, the cartel is getting richer.

It would not hurt to transfer 35 billion from “covid” fund. The question remains whether only the cartel is getting richer. Do its curators hold positions in power?

The answer may come very unexpectedly for all participants of the process, as it happened with the same Member of Parliament Yurchenko. 

In the meantime, we should wait for updated declarations and see which Zelenskyi’s “curators” began to acquire new cars and whether Yermak, Shefir, Tymoshenko and others will acquire luxury real estate.

Their Svynarchuk’s

This section of the story is in the progress...

Roman Romanyuk, UP

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