Ukrainian asset declarations reform seen letting corrupt officials off hook

KIEV (Reuters) - Corrupt Ukrainian officials are being let off the hook because verification of their online declarations of income and assets is failing, the head of the anti-corruption bureau said on Wednesday.

FILE PHOTO: Director of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine Artem Sytnyk attends a news conference in Kiev, Ukraine August 18, 2016. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo

Kiev launched the wealth database for legislators and civil servants in 2016 in a bid to tackle graft that pleased Ukraine’s backers including the International Monetary Fund.

The database caused uproar as officials declared millions of dollars in cash and luxury cars in a country where the average monthly salary is little over $200, fuelling hopes that those guilty of amassing ill-gotten gains would be held to account.

Ukraine’s leaders said its launch testified to their commitment to modernize the economy and lessen the power of vested interests in the wake of the pro-European ‘Maidan’ uprising in 2013-14.

But the initiative may have been doomed from the start, said Artem Sytnyk, director of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which investigates state corruption.

“The body whose responsibility it was to check these declarations simply doesn’t work,” Sytnyk said in an interview, referring to sister agency National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAZK).

“The e-declarations ... could have become a very effective tool in the fight against corruption, but unfortunately because this body (NAZK) was never really established and never started its work, this tool is under threat.”

NAZK did not respond to a request for comment but it has previously blamed its failure to process the hundreds of thousands of declarations on a lack of appropriate software and bureaucratic obstacles.

The failure of the database would be a blow to a fight against corruption that reformers say politicians have little appetite for.

Sytnyk said the fate of pending legislation in parliament to create an independent anti-corruption court would reveal the priorities of those in power.

“If there is political will, there will likely be no problems during the debate of these bills,” he said.

Like the declarations database before it, the creation of an anti-corruption court is a key criteria for the next tranche of loans under Ukraine’s $17.5 billion reform program from the IMF that has faced repeated delays.

Sytnyk said his agency’s work building cases against corrupt officials would be undermined if the court is not established.

Editing by Matthias Williams and Matthew Mpoke Bigg