Ukraine anti-corruption court can start work early 2019: prosecutor

LONDON (Reuters) - Ukraine’s new corruption court, whose creation is a key condition set by Western aid donors, should be ready to hear its first cases early next year, General Prosecutor Yuriy Lutsenko said.

Yuriy Lutsenko, Prosecutor General of Ukraine, speaks at Chatham House alongside Eugene Yenin, Deputy Prosecutor General, in London, Britain, May 2, 2018. REUTERS/Karin Strohecker

In an interview with Reuters in London, Lutsenko also said he hoped to join forces with the FBI on an investigation relating to U.S. President Donald Trump’s ex-aide Paul Manafort.

While slow progress in tackling corruption has been an obstacle in Ukraine’s efforts to fulfill requirements for a long-delayed loan tranche from the International Monetary Fund, Lutsenko said he expected the final law on setting up the anti-corruption court to pass before parliament’s summer recess.

The parliament had approved a draft law on the court in March.

“(Then) after six or eight months it is possible to hear the first cases,” Lutsenko said on the sidelines of an event at London think-tank Chatham House.

Reform campaigners and Ukraine’s Western backers have pushed for an independent court to handle corruption cases, saying it is essential for the ex-Soviet republic’s efforts to cement the rule of law and reduce the power of vested interests.

But foreign backers have expressed concern that the legislation is not in line with recommendations from the Venice Commission, a rights watchdog.

While policy makers in Kiev were still in discussion with the International Monetary Fund, Lutsenko was optimistic plans would be amended to take IMF concerns into account.

“There is a little bit of discussion about the system of testing the judges, because the IMF set us requirements that are so high,” he said.

He said the type of cases which should be heard by the court had also been another subject of debate. “We should chose a common solution with IMF in these two points.”

Asked about progress on investigations in Ukraine relating to Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, Lutsenko said he was told in autumn by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) that they had launched their own investigation and could not provide information at this stage.

“The ball is on the U.S. side... (we) can’t finish our investigation without their results, because we need some information,” he said.

“I am going to have negotiations with FBI officials and will talk about a joint investigation group with them.”

In November, the head of special investigations at the general prosecutor’s office Serhii Horbatiuk, told Reuters that Ukraine had sent requests in 2014 and 2015 to question representatives of a law firm and Manafort relating to two cases involving misuse of Ukrainian state funds.

In the United States, Manafort faces two indictments accusing him of conspiracy against the United States, conspiracy to launder money, failing to register as a foreign agent for lobbying work he did for the pro-Russia government of Ukraine, bank fraud and other offenses.

Reporting by Karin Strohecker; Editing by Richard Balmforth