Brussels observers of the fight against corruption in Ukraine have expressed deep concerns about the efficiency of policies put in place in the last five years, during an online dialogue between the Polita think tank in Kyiv and the Brussels Press Club on 2 September, writes Willy Fautré, Human Rights Without Frontiers.
On 28 August, the Constitutional Court declared a decree by President Petro Poroshenko in April 2015 appointing Artem Sytnyk as the director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) unconstitutional.
In May 2020, the Constitutional Court received a motion from 51 MPs challenging the constitutionality of the presidential appointment of Sytnyk as NABU director five years earlier. Some anti-corruption watchdogs consider Sytnyk to be the victim of a cabal organized behind the scenes by billionaire businessmen such as Igor Kolomoisky and Oleg Bakhmatyuk, along with Minister of Interior Arsen Avakov. NABU has investigated controversial activities of their companies as well as of Avakov’s family.
This latest incident on the bumpy road of reform for the judiciary demonstrates that anti-corruption policies are still undermined by very powerful stakeholders in Ukraine. There are also too many anti-corruption institutions that can be manipulated by prosecutors, judges and MPs who are on the payroll of extremely rich businessmen.
National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU)
NABU was created in 2015. It currently has 653 employees, including 245 detectives, who are paid high salaries to mitigate the temptations of corruption.
NABU boasts of having opened 406 criminal proceedings and served 125 individuals with charges during the first half of 2020. However, only 33 cases have been sent to court and, in total, only five convictions have been handed down against six people.
One of the reproaches of Ukrainian human rights organizations is that since 2015, no prominent corrupt official has been convicted. In its issue published on 21 February 2020, Kyiv Post reported that as of 1 January 2020, only 32 guilty verdicts had been issued in five years and that of these only lower level bureaucrats had been sentenced and smaller schemes had been dismantled. Two emblematic cases, among many others, remain unresolved as of today.
The first case concerns the Privatbank owned by Igor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Bogolyubov. It was subject to large scale coordinated fraud which resulted in losses amounting to at least USD 5.5 billion before nationalisation in 2016. As a last resort, Ukrainian tax-payers had to bail this bank out.
In the case of the Rotterdam+ scheme, the fraudulent overpricing of energy is estimated at over USD 710 million. The main beneficiary is said to be businessman Rinat Akhmetov, who controls 90% of the coal in Ukraine.
The High Council of Justice
One highly controversial institution is the High Council of Justice, which is tasked with determining the outcome of the new judicial reform bill that was submitted by President Volodymyr Zelensky to the Ukrainian Parliament on 22 June 2020. Many of its members have a toxic reputation and have been accused of corruption and ethics violations, which they deny.
One of the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) criteria for the payment of USD 5 billion for a reform program was that Ukraine must create a commission tasked with monitoring and firing tainted members of the High Council of Justice. This commission was to include foreign experts to provide impartiality. However, the new bill does not envisage the creation of such a commission and the firing of controversial members of the High Council of Justice would exclusively be decided by a majority of its own members without any involvement of foreign experts.
Furthermore, according to Ukraine’s agreement with the IMF, Kyiv was obligated to create a High Commission of Qualification of Judges by 7 February. This would be the competent body for hiring and firing judges, and would also include foreign experts. These foreign experts should have been appointed by the High Council before mid-January, but they weren’t.
Instead, in December 2019, the High Council of Justice swiftly published rules depriving international experts of any major role in decision making processes, which was in direct contradiction of the IMF deal.
Now, Zelensky’s new bill stipulates that a selection panel comprised of three members of the Ukrainian Council of Judges and three foreign experts would choose new members of the High Commission of Qualification of Judges. It also states that the international experts may be nominated by foreign organizations, but that the High Council of Justice will have the final say regarding the hiring of nominees. This opens the door to manipulation of this process and will likely prevent any real reform, according to some anti-corruption watchdogs.
In conclusion, the June draft law fails to respect the judicial reform criteria of the IMF memorandum which Ukraine must comply with by October 2020 to receive the next tranche of USD 5 billion. The bill even goes in the opposite direction as it strengthens the High Council, which is actively sabotaging the IMF’s reform program.
It is thus unsurprising that 76% of the general public distrust the judiciary according to a Razumkov Center poll published in February, as it is apparent that even the reform process is fraught with corruption.
Police break up Brussels anti-lockdown party
Police fired water cannon and tear gas in a Brussels park on Saturday (1 May) to break up an anti-lockdown party of several hundred people designed to defy coronavirus social distancing rules. The crowd of mostly young people responded to a post on Facebook announcing the unauthorised party. It took place a month after police cleared 2,000 people who gathered in the same Bois de la Cambre park for la Boum (the party), an event that had begun as an April Fool's joke.
The follow-up Boum 2 event on 1 May, a traditional day for demonstrations, was held a week before the Belgian government allows cafe and bar terraces to open and lets groups of more than four people meet outside in a relaxation of COVID-19 rules.
Prime Minister Alexander De Croo urged Belgians on Friday to stay united and not "fall into this trap". Facebook also took down the Boum 2 post on Thursday (29 April) after a request from Belgian prosecutors, who warned partygoers they risked being detained or fined.
Police said several hundred people still attended.
Emile Breuillot, a 23-year-old dental student, said he had come to see people enjoy themselves and to defend their rights to gather.
After a calm start with groups chanting "freedom", the police announced on social media that attendees were not observing public safety measures and that they would intervene. Many people were not wearing masks, a requirement anywhere in public in the Belgian capital.
Hundreds of people also marched in central Brussels and through the eastern city of Liege demanding a relaxation of coronavirus measures.
Beware of false refugees, the cult nature of the Eastern Lightning (The Church of Almighty God).
I recently visited the Center for Information and Advice on Harmful Sectarian Organizations (CIAOSN) of the Ministry of Justice of the Belgian Federal Government and was received by a spokesperson for the Center who immediately specified that the Center was an independent Center set up under the Federal Public Service for Justice - writes Roland Delcourt
This spokesperson told me the CIAOSN was very interested in an 18-pages report they recently received on the Eastern Lightning (The Church of Almighty God) and explained the philosophy and goals of the Center .
The responsibility of the Center is to study the phenomenon of Belgian cult organizations and their connections on an international scale. Moreover, these studies will provide an information basis and reference suggestions for the work of the Belgian government, police, justice and immigration, as well as any public authority.
The spokesperson for the Center gave examples of the Center's intervention in related incidents. The CIAOSN pointed out that the information transmitted by some religions or religious organizations may cause certain believers to fail to comply with safety instructions and threaten public health safety. At present, the New Coronavirus Research Center has received received reports of several such incidents.
I was told that the report would serve to enlighten the Center about an unknown movement in Belgium. In the event that they receive a request for an opinion from any Belgian authority concerning one or more members of the Eastern Lightning (The Church of Almighty God), these files could serve as a basis for opening a study on the realities of the facts and sources so that the Center could give the competent authorities its opinion and recommendations.
The Center's decision will follow the practical definition of relevant laws. The 13 harmful standards listed in the report of the Congressional Investigation Committee (April 28, 1997) are:
1. Misleading or abusive recruiting methods.
2. Use mind manipulation.
3. Physical or mental (psychological) abuse of believers or members of their families.
4. Deprive believers or their families of medical care.
5. Acts of violence against believers, their families, others and even children, especially sexual violence.
6. Divide believers with their families, spouses, children, family members, and friends.
7. Abduct children or keep them away from their parents.
8. Deprive them of their freedom to separate from religion.
9. Disproportionate financial demands, fraud, embezzlement of funds and property harm the interests of believers.
10. Unjustly interfere with the work of believers.
11. Stigmatize a democratic society and completely break with it.
12. The desire to destroy society for the benefit of the organization.
13. Use illegal means to gain power.
If one or more of these points meet the required criteria, the Center will issue a negative opinion. According to the information from the report, the worship of the Eastern Lightning (The Church of Almighty God) seem to correspond to the very definition of a harmful cult.
If, after studying various elements, the Center should consider that this organization falls within the framework of harmful sects, the Center could be led to give an unfavourable opinion to the Immigration Office in the event that individuals presenting themselves as a member of the sect would request political or other asylum.
Cults are a familiar concept in our modern society, however, to clarifying the nature of cults and identifying them still poses a difficult problem. Different countries have different opinions on the definition of what a cult is and it is proving difficult to agreeing on a common consensus. Very often legislations only explain the meaning of cults within their respective scopes and the lack of standards make it even harder to apply legal restrictions on cults, especially contemporary ones.
Cults are a major public hazard to mankind, and also are a very serious social problem faced by governments around the world. Although cults are numerous and bizarre, their anti-science, anti-human, anti-society, and anti-government natures follow very similar patterns.
In Europe, an ever growing number of cult organizations are fabricating and spreading fallacies and heresies through various illegal means. The Church of Almighty God cult that came out of China is one of them. This cult has been making waves in China and European countries for more than 20 years!
Creating ideological chaos, extorting believers' money, seeking huge profits, infiltrating influential posts and governmental bodies, cults seriously threaten our social order and national security.
Commission approves €75 million Belgian scheme to support companies restarting activities in Flemish Region affected by coronavirus outbreak
The European Commission has approved a €75 million Belgian scheme to support the costs of companies active in the Flemish Region restarting their activities affected by the severe restrictions due to the coronavirus outbreak, at times causing a long period of closure. The scheme was approved under the state aid Temporary Framework. The scheme, called ‘Restart loan for undertakings with liquidity problems', will be administered by the Flemish Region and will be open to companies of all sizes and active in all sectors, except the financial one. Under the scheme, the public support will take the form of loans. Eligible companies will receive up to two loans, at a subsidised interest rate of 1%. The Commission found that the Belgian scheme is in line with the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. In particular, the aid (i) will not exceed €1.8m per company and (ii) will be granted no later than 31 December 2021. The Commission therefore concluded that the measure is necessary, appropriate and proportionate to remedy a serious disturbance in the economy of a member state, in line with Article 107(3)(b) TFEU and the conditions set out in the Temporary Framework. On this basis, the Commission approved the measure under EU State aid rules. More information on the Temporary Framework and other actions taken by the Commission to address the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic can be found here. The non-confidential version of the decision will be made available under the case number SA.62430 in the state aid register on the Commission's competition website once any confidentiality issues have been resolved.
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