Avakov, Kolomoyskyi and 216 more problems of Artem Sytnyk. Interview with the NABU Director

The storm clouds gather over the Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, Artem Sytnyk. 216 Members of Parliament of Ukraine signed a draft resolution on his dismissal. In turn, G7 ambassadors released support statement for Artem Sytnyk.

Sytnyk calls the draft resolution illegal and explains who is behind it. He also told us when he had a conversation with President Volodymyr Zelenskyi and why there are still no sentences against top-corrupt officials. Read full Sytnik’s interview for LIGA.net.

 Let's not start with the question of dismissal. What is the situation with the autonomous wiretapping for NABU? What's stopping you?

— In order to give NABU the right to autonomous wiretapping, it was necessary to amend the legislation. However, for four years this had not been done, even despite the fact that Ukraine took a corresponding obligation in the framework of cooperation with the IMF. These amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code and to the Telecommunication Laws, which give NABU the right to wiretapping, were adopted only after the replacement of the President. The next stage is the implementation of this right, which depends on the position of the Security Service of Ukraine and mobile operators. We work on it now. However, the main problem has already been solved.

 So, are the decisions of the Parliament not needed for this anymore?

— No.

 And what about communication between NABU and the SSU?

— The law on autonomous wiretapping was adopted after the formation of the budget request. In the budget for 2020, funds for the development of this system are not provided. Nevertheless, we are trying to find resources by saving and reconsidering priorities in expenses. The next stage is the coordination of positions with the SSU, which is almost done. However, it is necessary all of this (the equipment for autonomous wiretapping - ed.) to be routed directly to the operators.

 Is there any resistance from the SSU?

— No, there is not, yet.

 On January 17, the President gathered the heads of law enforcement and security agencies in the Presidential Office on the issues related to leaked audio recordings allegedly with Honcharuk`s voice. Including you. Taking into account your wiretapping capabilities, does the President suspect NABU?

— I did not consider this issue in the way that those who were suspected were gathered. As I understood, the purpose of the meeting was to figure out and find out who did it. The SSU investigate this case; this is their jurisdiction.

 And why did the President invite you? How does NABU help in this matter?

— Except the necessary to establish the involved, the issue of preventing of such things was discussed. It is wrong when wiretapping carried out without a court order, and it clearly does not add credibility of Ukraine in the international arena. We (NABU - ed.) cannot afford this. We have always worked under conditions of resistance, and the persons against whom we conducted investigations used countermeasures. I always tell our employees that our actions must be legal. Therefore, in this regard, we are calm, because our team knows that this equipment must be used in compliance with legal requirements.

 After this meeting, did you have a conversation with the President? Did he take you aside for a face-to-face talk?

— I don`t want to go into details: my comments are within the previously voiced public position of the President and participants of the meeting.

 I ask not in the context of wiretapping, but in the context of your future.

— No, there were no such conversations. If we are talking about NABU, the law prescribes our future. There is an audit, which should be carried out annually. It will give an answer to the question about the effectiveness of NABU management. In addition, accordingly, the results of this audit are the basis for the dismissal (of NABU Director - ed.). The procedures are prescribed, but for some reasons are not followed.

 Let's remember your first meeting with the President in May 2019. He said, "the results of the investigations of corruption crimes over the next three months will be an indicator of the ability of SAPO and NABU to meet the expectations of Ukrainians." Three months have passed. Don`t you think that in the eyes of the President the indicator of your ability is equal to zero?

— In the second half of 2019, NABU and SAPO gave notices of suspicions to more persons than during the whole 2018 (84 vs. 79 - ed.). Almost every three days, we gave someone a notice of suspicion. For example, in January we gave 39 notices of suspicion. This is about as much as for all the first half of 2018. Almost every day we detain someone. As you can see, we are speeding up the pace. However, if we are talking about liability, punishment for corruption, we should note that the Anti-Corruption Court determines the guilt and punishment of a person. More than 400 people are defendants. In addition, I hope that in the nearest future there will be sentences against them.

 So, do we expect monetization?

— That was a poor choice of words. However, at our joint presentation of the Report on NABU and SAPO results during the second half of 2019, Nazar Kholodnytskyi said that he expects by the end of the year about 100 sentences in cases that are under trial in the Anti-Corruption Court.

 You met Zelenskyi again in October 2019, when he came to NABU “to motivate Detectives”. He said, "we don't want to put pressure on you and we won't." Have you felt pressure from state leaders?

— No, we don`t. Moreover, we already have an experience working under pressure, for almost five years, some tried to destroy us. Zelenskyi’s visit was really a motivational meeting with NABU employees. We thanked him for his initiatives regarding our activities. For example, the Former Presidential Administration did not want to complete a procedure that allows us to work with foreign jurisdictions in criminal cases. The problem was that the depositories of a number of international treaties were not informed that we are the central body responsible for such cooperation together with the Ministry of Justice and the Prosecutor General’s Office. This lead to, for example, Lutsenko`s visit to our international partners. He told that NABU did not have the right to cooperate with international authorities.

The second question is the so-called "Lozovyi's amendments", which blocked the work of NABU and other law enforcement bodies. Those were partially cancelled. At the meeting, there was an opportunity to talk (with the President - ed.) on the existing problems. There was no pressure.

 Is it more comfortable to work with Zelenskyi, than with Poroshenko?

— (smiles) I don`t want to single out a specific authority or official. I can say that until 2019 we had worked in the environment: we were constantly waiting for some kind of blow – either from the Prosecutor General's Office or from the SSU... Now the situation has changed. If we are talking about the Prosecutor General's Office, many cases that the PGO or the Former Prosecutor General personally had taken away from us were returned to NABU. In addition, the SSU and NABU established cooperation. Earlier the transfer of any investigation materials of the SSU to NABU was out of the question.

— So do you feel pressure from the state leaders now?

— Besides that they are now collecting signatures and trying to illegally make a decision (on the dismissal of NABU Director— ed.)... There will always be some pressure. Because the persons who appear in our investigations are able to control serious media, have material and administrative resources. Moreover, they use all these resources for their defense against criminal prosecution. Nevertheless, we always were separate from politics; we do not support any political force.

- Recently, a meeting of the anti-corruption committee was held at the NABU building. For some reason, this reminded me Honcharuk’s “report” in the Presidential Office. Why did the Committee meet you, and not vice versa?

— I do not see the negative in the fact that the Committee organized a field meeting. As far as I know, they did field meetings in other law enforcement agencies and this was normally perceived. At this meeting (held in a closed format by decision of the Committee — ed.), we explained to the members of Parliament what NABU was and what opportunities we had. Of course, in compliance with the secrecy of the pre-trial investigation. On February 12, 2020, it will be an open meeting of the committee where we’ll present a report (on NABU and SAPO activities in the second half of 2019 — ed.).

I was pleased that the anti-corruption committee held a meeting at the NABU building. It was for the first time. Typically, some MPs tried to defend representatives of their political parties. Therefore, it seems to me that is the correct format, which allows discussing sensitive moments in a calm environment without politicizing the processes.

— Regarding the MPs. Are you talking about last examples?

— No, I am not. The Radical Party used to come to us and to SAPO.

— What about current MPs?

— No, the MPs of this convocation have a lot of work in the Parliament... We talked for three hours (at the meeting of the anti-corruption committee in NABU — ed.). It seemed to me that it was constructive communication.

The MPs from certain political circles collect signatures and push other MPs to illegitimate actions. What is it for? I think we will get the answers soon.

— A draft resolution on the dismissal of you from the post of the NABU Director was registered in the Parliament. What do you think is the reason? And why now?

— Current actions (collecting signatures for the dismissal from the post of the NABU Director — ed.) are connected with the so-called “backpacks` case”, that, unfortunately, was closed by the SAPO decision. As well as the PrivatBank case, that was lately transferred to NABU. Here are two key reasons. The only thing that is not clear to me is why this (attempt to remove from post — ed.) is done in such an uncivilized way.

— After the appearance of this document, did you have a conversation with Zelenskyi or with someone from the Presidential Office? Did you ask the President on his position? Because many “servants of the people” have signed this document.

 — My education and experience provide an opportunity to assess what is happening. However, we are aware that the adoption of such clearly illegal decisions will not add credibility to the country itself. I hope that this situation will calm down and stop.

— You mentioned that PrivatBank case was transferred to NABU. What are you investigating right now?

— We registered criminal proceedings in 2017 and have been investigating since then. A few more cases on PrivatBank were in the PGO. After the Prosecutor General's Office had been deprived of the right to carry out investigations from November 2019, those proceedings were transferred to NABU. In total, the size of investigation files exceeds 3,000 volumes including materials transferred from the PGO. This complex investigation is not progressing as fast as society expects. Unfortunately, we do not feel fruitful cooperation in the investigation of this case, especially by expert institutions. However, we do not give up — we will investigate.

— How soon can this case be sent to court?

— In order to understand what the prospect of the case is, it is necessary to carry out all the investigative actions that NABU Detectives considers necessary. After that, you can understand what decision is to be made. Therefore, I will not make forecasts.

— The initiative of your dismissal can be connected with the fact that the MPs representing the interests of one of the oligarchs received a signal that something has intensified in the PrivatBank case?

— The topic of PrivatBank is a constant message from our international partners. We investigate this case. We never stop our work. And, of course, Detectives carry out all the necessary investigative actions. Perhaps this annoys someone.

— And what threatens to the person who is annoyed by this case investigation?

— (laughs) So far, only NABU Director is the one who is threatened ... Time will tell.

— Analyzing the list of signatories of the decision on your dismissal, in addition to Kolomoiskyi’s insult, it seems like that Avakov is also offended. Is the Minister of the Internal Affairs so vindictive or are you constantly crossing his path?

— I never cross somebody’s path. At the Committee meeting, it was said that we are an apolitical independent law enforcement agency. It is difficult and painful because everyone is trying to push and hit you. When the NABU Detectives work, I realize what kind of media consequences such investigations may have. However, I cannot order the Detective not to investigate, because it threatens with reverse actions in my direction.

— When was the last time you talked to Avakov?

— A long time ago. About two years ago, may be.

About your relationship with Kholodnytskyi. In an interview with Ukrainian Pravda in the summer of 2018, you said that it’s “difficult for you to imagine further cooperation” with the SAPO Head. Looking at your last joint report, there was no reconciliation between you. And it looks like you are just hostages of the situation. Have you decided to count the hours until the fall, when Kholodnytskyi leaves his post? Or are you, like the Minister of the Internal Affairs, "used to forgive fools"?

Whatever the relationship is, you can`t switch to insults. Such a behavior is unworthy for the head of a law enforcement agency in any circumstances. I have never afforded such a thing and will not afford. As for cooperation with SAPO, I have the only desire for SAPO to make legitimate decisions. In addition, the Detectives who collect evidence could embody them in notices of suspicion. Facts indicate a significant improvement in the cooperation between NABU and SAPO. We have discussions, and this is the normal workflow of the Prosecutor and the Detective. Now we communicate and move forward.

 On his Twitter, except the information about your vacations and the “backpacks` case” (Avakov: “The NABU Director being a corrupt official from the registry looks for a reason to justify his unpaid drunkenness, blames anyone but himself”), Avakov also reminded the case of your alleged interference in the election of the USA President. What is the matter with this? Who investigates it? Or was it closed at all?

—  I do not monitor investigations against me. There were a lot of them. It was obvious that Yuriy Lutsenko registered this case for political reasons. Therefore, I had no concerns about that. As for Avakov’s Twitts, he is quite emotional. Unfortunately, sometimes emotions dominate the serving the Motherland and carrying out responsibilities.

 Talking about the cooperation with SAPO. Deputy of the SAPO Head Mr. Hryschuk gave a permission to Mykytas to leave Ukraine for four days. NABU did not know about it at all. Does the conciliation with Kholodnytskyi look like this?

—  Afterward he canceled that permission. And it did not happen yet.

  Do you believe that Kholodnytskyi did not know about this?

—  I had no concept of faith in criminal proceedings. We cannot afford it. Formally, Hryschuk had the authority to give that permission. This is not prohibited by the law. Later Kholodnytskyi canceled it. We had a conversation about that. I asked "Clarify it because, frankly, it is not quite clear why there was a permission and what had changed." As far as I know, Nazar was on vacation then. The permission concerned his first day after vacation.

  Before that, were there similar cases when SAPO gave permission, but you did not know about it?

—  Different things took place. Not so often, but it used to be. Now we have an understanding of common actions. Unfortunately, such examples also exist. I mean examples that are not entirely clear. I hope the SAPO Head will figure out why it had happened.

 Another example of cooperation with SAPO. On January 26, Alperin’s lawyer said that an electronic monitoring device was removed from his client, as the SAPO prosecutor Perov “forgot” to transfer the decision of the Anti-Corruption Court for execution.

— It is not true. It was removed a few days before the deadline. Moreover, this term was extended. The prosecutor had five days in stock and there was no need to transfer this decision to Odesa for police execution immediately.

They always call the Detectives to clarify what the situation is there; even when there are some technical issues and the resolution does not have time to reach the performer. In this case, for no reason, a few days before the end of the wearing period, in the presence of an extension order, the electronic monitoring device was removed. Therefore, this whole story is just a little too weird. We try to figure this out. As of now, Alperin wears the electronic monitoring device.

 Energomerezha case. Is there any evidence that Surkis or Kononenko covered Kryuchkov?

— The investigation as of the “Zaporizhzhiaoblenergo” episode completed in August 2019. Now the defence is granted with access to the materials of the pre-trial investigation. As for another episode related to “Cherkasyoblenergo”, the investigation is in progress; at the end of 2019, the NABU Detectives gave notices of suspicion to two persons. In addition, for the same episode, we requested from Germany a permission (to prosecute - ed.), because Kryuchkov was detained there and extradited to Ukraine. However, decision was made without taking into account this episode.

As for the other defendants, NABU Detectives take all possible measures to identify all the persons involved, including those mentioned in the TV program “Schemes: Corruption in Details” (referring to the recording of alleged conversation of persons with voices similar to Dmytro Kryuchkov and Surkis brothers - ed.) . We tried to find the source of these records. However, we have not found it yet.

 The case of allegedly USD 20 million bribe to Andriy Bohdan. What is the matter with this? It looks like investigation is stopped.

— We have registered investigation, and now we are checking those facts. We conducted a series of interrogations. The decision is still pending.

 What should happen that you decide to resign voluntarily?

— I will resign when I realize that I have fulfilled my mission. To date, it is not completed. The actions of the opponents motivate in some way, because there is an understanding that we are on the right path. Let me remind you that I do not have the right to be re-elected, so in any case, eventually this story will end.

Photos by NABU Press Office