- Title: "Little bird" Ukrainian anti-graft body may struggle to investigate MPs' wealth
- Date: 21st November 2016
- Summary: KIEV, UKRAINE (RECENT) (REUTERS) INDEPENDENCE SQUARE MONUMENT TO INDEPENDENCE AND 'UKRAINE' HOTEL IN BACKGROUND WITH UKRAINIAN FLAG WAVING PEOPLE WALKING PAST MEMORIAL TO SERVICEMEN KILLED IN UKRAINE'S EAST HEAD OF TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL UKRAINE, YAROSLAV YURCHYSHYN, WITH LAPTOP YURCHYSHYN'S HANDS ON KEYBOARD
- Embargoed: 6th December 2016 14:07
- Keywords: Ukraine corruption electronic declaration IMF reform anti-corruption agency
- Location: KIEV, UKRAINE
- City: KIEV, UKRAINE
- Country: Ukraine
- Topics: Lawmaking,Government/Politics
- Reuters ID: LVA00159E1BUV
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:The head of Ukraine's anti-corruption agency (NAZK) compared its first failed attempt to launch an online wealth declaration programme to a little bird hitting a glass window.
The tool eventually got off the ground in October. But this handed the NAZK a more formidable task - to sift one-by-one through more than 100,000 forms submitted by politicians or senior civil servants and to find evidence of ill-gotten gains or tax evasion.
Pro-reform activists and lawmakers doubt the "little bird" has the resources or commitment for the job at a time when Ukrainian authorities are trying convince Western donors they are paying more than just lip service to reform promises.
The International Monetary Fund, which supports Kiev with a $17.5 billion bailout that is partly contingent on Ukraine tackling entrenched graft, wants to see corrupt high-level officials held to account.
"We have a lot of questions to the leadership of NAZK. Because instead of setting clear deadlines and explaining what they are able to do and what they are not able to do, very often they talk about nothing and say they can't do anything because they don't have computers or something else," head of Transparency International Ukraine Yaroslav Yurchyshyn told Reuters in an interview.
The agency employs 36 people, who, lacking a unified database, must manually cross-reference each declaration with separate property and tax registries - a Herculean task considering many forms run to dozens of pages, listing millions of dollars in cash, fleets of luxury cars and tracts of land.
"Civil society can be of huge help because even law enforcement agencies all together are unlikely to be able to verify hundreds of thousands of declarations and find the most striking examples of illegal enrichment. But Ukrainian citizens, who live on the same streets with these officials and know how they live, can (monitor this)," Yurchyshyn said.
NAZK chief Nataliya Korchak was quick to play down expectations about fast breakthroughs in investigating the officials' wealth.
"Taking into account that national agency is under such a close attention of civil society and that it went through very difficult times within the past months, we are not interested in delaying this process. But procedures related to the examination of declarations will not take a month only, it may take some time. But trust me, it won't take years," Korchak told a news conference.
The agency had not been provided with enough money this year to build a system capable of automatically accessing all registries, she said, but work would start on improving the software next year if a budget increase is approved.
The justice ministry, which must approve NAZK's plan for investigating the wealth declarations, sent back its initial proposal as unrealistic.
General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko has said officials who have declared cash assets of more than $100,000 will be investigated and could face up to 15 years in prison if found guilty of wrongdoing.
Meanwhile anti-graft investigators said on Friday (November 18) they had opened criminal cases linked to two unnamed lawmakers and one member of the judiciary based on their declarations.
But some doubt if these sorts of investigations will result in many successful prosecutions.
"I think that probably some cases (will be investigated) - of those who are not close to certain (political) circles or of those who needs to get rid of," Kiev resident Oleg said.
The failure of the system would bolster the arguments of critics, such as outgoing Odessa Governor Mikheil Saakashvili, who says Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and his circle are interested in preserving the old status quo.
Poroshenko, who is the country's sixth wealthiest businessman according to Forbes Ukraine and whose office has dismissed Saakashvili's allegations, has publicly backed the declarations reform.
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