KYIV, Dec. 4 – Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko unexpectedly skipped an invitation to travel to Washington for a high-profile anti-corruption forum, an investigative journalist reported Monday.
Natalie Sedletska, whose Skhemy anti-corruption television show exposes corrupt officials, posted a picture of Ukrainian Ambassador to the U.S. Valeriy Chaliy in Washington taking the seat of Lutsenko at the forum.
The development is an indication that Kyiv and Washington are growing apart due to lack of progress in combating high-level corruption in Ukraine.
Lutsenko’s empty seat is even more telling as two other key Ukrainian anti-corruption officials, National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine chief Artem Sytnyk and Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytskiy, have joined the forum.
This comes days after a major conflict between Lutsenko and the Sytnyk-Kholodnytskiy team. Lutsenko’s agents, helped by the SBU security service, had disrupted an undercover operation by NABU agents to expose and prosecute high-level corruption in the Ukrainian government.
Lutsenko and SBU chief Vasyl Hrytsak are close allies of President Petro Poroshenko.
The developments added concerns among observers that top Ukrainian law enforcement officials may have been guided to deliberately disrupt the investigation and perhaps to cover up the corrupt practices.
Adding fuel to these concerns was a strongly worded statement released by the U.S. Department of State late Monday, sharply criticizing the fact that the undercover operation has been disrupted.
“Recent events – including the disruption of a high-level corruption investigation, the arrest of officials from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), and the seizure of sensitive NABU files – raise concerns about Ukraine’s commitment to fighting corruption,” the U.S. Department of State said.
“These actions appear to be part of an effort to undermine independent anti-corruption institutions that the United States and others have helped support. They undermine public trust and risk eroding international support for Ukraine.
“It serves no purpose for Ukraine to fight for its body in Donbas if it loses its soul to corruption,” the statement quoted U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson as saying. “Anti-corruption institutions must be supported, resourced, and defended.”
The NABU’s six-month undercover operation focused on exposing senior officials at the State Migration Service (SMS) for allegedly issuing Ukrainian passports to foreigners in exchange for a $30,000 bribe.
But the operation was disrupted on November 29 after NABU’s undercover agents were arrested by the SBU, alleging the agents had been offering to bribe Dina Pimakhova, a deputy chief at SMS.
NABU accused the SBU of accessing wiretapping records to tip Pimakhova off, in order to launch the attack against NABU agents. (nr/ez)