Andriy Bogdan, a stocky and often comical character, is arguably Ukraine’s most powerful or second most powerful person and grey cardinal behind the country’s entire political and law enforcement system.
Yet, he has not even been elected by popular vote.
Based on his looks and behaviour, he is a throwback to the “wild 1990s”, a period of lawlessness, gangsters clad in funny red suits, and a Soviet mentality that was experiencing contact with Western wealth for the first time.
Typical for that time, Bogdan’s English is at best rudimentary, and he does not seem to feel comfortable when speaking to foreigners.
He has shot to prominence quickly: Bogdan used to be an inconspicuous lawyer, with one of his clients being billionaire tycoon Igor Kolomoisky. Then, all of a sudden, he orchestrated Volodymyr Zelensky’s successful presidential campaign in March and April and became his chief of staff in May.
But now Bogdan appears to be the biggest threat to Ukraine’s rule of law and reforms.
Bogdan, who worked under ex-President Viktor Yanukovych as the anti-corruption ombudsman from 2010 to 2014, may be interested in derailing cases into Yanukovych-era crimes, including the murder of over 100 protesters during the EuroMaidan Revolution. Bogdan was appointed to his job in violation of the 2014 lustration law, which bans the hiring of top Yanukovych-era officials. Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka, a long-time acquaintance of Bogdan, used to work with him under Yanukovych.
Riaboshapka on October 23 fired Sergei Gorbatuk, the top investigator in charge of EuroMaidan cases. Gorbatuk said that Bogdan was interested in his dismissal.
The investigator said the EuroMaidan investigations unit had been effectively destroyed, and the lawyers and families of killed EuroMaidan demonstrators said the investigations may collapse.
Gorbatuk has gained the reputation as one of Ukraine’s most honest and independent investigators and has been consistently praised by the lawyers and families of slain EuroMaidan protesters.
Bogdan, who denies the accusations of wrongdoing, features in at least two cases that were investigated by Gorbatuk’s unit.
In one of them, the unit drafted charges for Judge Anatoly Ivchenko over an allegedly unlawful ruling in favour of a 3 billion gryvnia debt claim by Russia’s Defense Ministry in 2012. Bogdan, who represented the Ukrainian government and is accused of effectively helping Russia, has been interrogated in the case.
A source familiar with the materials of the case said that Gorbatuk’s unit had drafted charges for Bogdan as an accomplice right before Gorbatuk’s dismissal.
In another case, Bogdan allegedly pressured Petro Stetsyuk, a former judge of the Constitutional Court, to issue a ruling that allowed lawmakers to switch from opposition parties to Yanukovych’s Party of Regions in April 2010, according to two sources who had access to official testimony given by Stetsyuk. Gorbatuk’s unit was investigating a usurpation of power case against Yanukovych and former Constitutional Court judges. He said that two investigators who were in charge of the usurpation of power and Ivchenko cases had been illegally fired just before his dismissal. Moreover, Riaboshapka has refused to authorise charges for Ivchenko and one of the former Constitutional Court judges in the usurpation of power case, Gorbatuk added.
The formal excuse for firing Gorbatuk is that he refused to undergo vetting under Riaboshapka’s procedure because he believes the procedure violates the law. However, he applied for vetting under a procedure that he says complies with the law.
The vetting is part of a long-awaited prosecution reform launched by Riaboshapka in mid-October. In theory, the stated goal is to purge corrupt and tainted prosecutors.
In reality, Riaboshapka is now getting rid of the most independent, outspoken and honest employees like Gorbatuk.
There is a sinister symbolism in the fact that the Zelensky administration is purging the most honest people and at the same time keeping the most controversial ones – such as Bogdan, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and members of the High Council of Justice, the judiciary’s governing body.
Avakov has featured in several corruption scandals and has been accused of sabotaging reforms and derailing high-profile investigations, which he denies.
On the upside, several top officials of ex-President Petro Poroshenko’s era now face criminal charges.
These include Oleg Gladkovsky, a former top defence official and business partner of Poroshenko; former People’s Front party lawmaker Sergey Pashinsky; former ex-Deputy Occupied Territories Minister Yuri Grymchak; ex-Poroshenko Bloc lawmaker Yaroslav Dubnevych, and Maxim Mikitas, ex-CEO of state construction firm Ukrbud.
However, it is not still a genuine hallmark of success. It’s easy to go after a previous government, and most Ukrainian governments have tried to prosecute their predecessors.
We can talk of success only when these charges lead to successful convictions and are not marred with violations of due process and kangaroo justice.
Moreover, real change will begin only when everyone, including Yanukovych-era, Poroshenko-era and Zelensky-era officials, will be equal before the law and will be prosecuted if they commit crimes.
Another failure of the Zelensky administration is a crackdown on businesses, which is ironic given its earlier claims that its members espouse a libertarian ideology.
Zelensky on October 17 signed a legislative package that drastically increases the tax burden and red tape for businesses and gives draconian powers to tax inspectors. For Europe’s poorest, least economically free and arguably most corrupt country, this package is a genuine disaster.
The stated goal of the legislation is to crack down on the shadow economy and corrupt schemes in customs and taxation.
The misguided laws aim to fight the consequences rather than the cause. To fight the shadow economy and reduce corruption, the Zelensky government must have drastically reduced the tax burden, improved tax administration and removed overregulation and red tape – something that Georgia did under ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili and Singapore under former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew.
This would have promoted economic growth, encouraged businesses to move out of the shadow and decreased corruption.
Instead, the increased tax burden and red tape will kill businesses and discourage investment and economic growth, making Ukraine even poorer, less economically free and more corrupt.
What should be done?
Why does this matter for Europe? European governments should not deceive themselves by thinking that Ukraine has fundamentally changed since Poroshenko was voted out in April.
The names and the style of government have changed but its essence has not.
European governments and taxpayers should realise that the endless cycle of Western money being wasted on fake Ukrainian reforms continues with every new president.
This time, there should be no illusions: if Zelensky wants to persuade Brussels and Washington that he’s different from his predecessors, he must stop coming up with spurious excuses for continued corruption, lawlessness and sabotage of reforms along the lines of Poroshenko and Yanukovych.
European diplomats should insist that Bogdan, Avakov and discredited Chief Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky be fired. They should demand the reinstatement of honest investigators like Gorbatuk and proper investigations into the EuroMaidan Revolution.
The European Union should also call for genuine reform of the judiciary, the prosecution service and the police, not a fake that would repeat the pseudo-reforms of Yanukovych and Poroshenko. Moreover, Zelensky must drastically cut economic regulation, liberate the economy, remove the ban on land sales and privatise state-owned firms.
Otherwise, not a cent more from European taxpayers’ pockets for Ukraine’s self-perpetuating kleptocracy.