Ukrainian president at war with constitutional court over corruption fight

by | Dec 4, 2020 | News

ZBARAZH, Ukraine — President Volodymyr Zelensky came to power in Ukraine after a career as a TV celebrity and rose to international fame as an extortion target of outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump.

So Zelensky is no stranger to the spotlight or the hot seat, and these days he is occupying both.

Ukraine is embroiled in a constitutional crisis triggered by Zelensky’s anti-corruption campaign.

The constitutional court in Kyiv, long accused of corruption and with some members under criminal investigation, scrapped in October anti-corruption measures requiring disclosure by public-sector workers of salary and assets such as houses or cars.

The disclosures seemed to suggest judges were living in a style far beyond what their salaries would be expected to support, even though, at $7,500 a month, they are paid 20 times the average monthly income in Ukraine.

The push for such judicial action also came chiefly from Ukrainian politicians aligned with Russia.

One of them was Victor Medvedchuk, whose family owns a $200-million yacht, acres of land on Bulgaria’s coast, and dozens of properties in Ukraine.

Zelensky immediately denounced the decision and ordered new anti-corruption provisions to be drafted and said the judges’ decision, which weakened the national anti-corruption agency, was a threat to national security.

In the days following the judges’ decision, Zelensky convened a meeting of the National Security and Defence Council, which suggested the judges be fired.

Since then, the debate has raged and protests mounted about the competing arguments between personal privacy and the government crackdown on corruption.

Zelensky has said “catastrophic consequences” could flow from the judges’ decision, including suspension of much-needed Western financial assistance to Ukraine and visa-free access for Ukrainians to the European Union.

During the investigation, the European Union has stopped the visa-free privileges in Ukraine and plans to renew them after the situation is resolved.

Constitutional Court Judge Ihor Slidenko threatened Zelensky with prison over the standoff on Nov. 2.

Zelensky released last week with a three-part plan to end the crisis, rein in the court, and restore the anti-corruption tools it threw out.

Ivan Sorokolit, the mayor of the Ternopil region, about 420 kilometres east of the capital Kyiv, said “there is a threat of losing democracy” as a result of the standoff.

“There is also a growing threat of losing the country or a significant part of it as a result of increasing Russian influence,” Sorokolit said.