Ukraine continues to fight corruption — don't believe the smear

Last week, The Hill’s John Solomon published a set of sensational columns dragging my tiny Ukrainian nonprofit into a complicated American national political debate where it does not belong. President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE retweeted the title of one of Solomon’s articles, which drew a lot of attention to the columns. However, the basic problem is that Solomon relied completely on Ukraine’s discredited Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko for his claims.

Solomon calls Lutsenko a hero for spending two years in prison after fighting Russian aggression in Ukraine. This is not true. Lutsenko was sentenced to four years in prison in early 2012 — two years before Russian aggression started in 2014. He was put there for allegedly embezzling funds and abusing his office while serving as interior minister. The case was later judged to be politically motivated

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Lutsenko also accused U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch of giving him a do-not-prosecute list and claimed that the U.S. Embassy forced him to close an investigation against my organization, the Anti-Corruption Action Organization (AntAC), for allegedly misspending $4 million in technical assistance. Lutsenko's claim again is false. The U.S. ambassador arrived in Ukraine in August 2016, and the case against AntAC was closed three months before her arrival. Moreover, prior to closing the case, Lutsenko called the case “stupid” and said that it “puts a shame on Ukraine’s prosecution.” 

Other scandalous allegations are rebutted in our detailed fact-checks of Lutsenko’s interview and Solomon’s column. 

Based on Lutsenko’s interview, Solomon suggests that AntAC, which he calls a Soros group, somehow colluded with former President Barack ObamaBarack Hussein ObamaThe Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary George Conway: 'If Barack Obama had done this' Republicans would be 'out for blood' George Conway to take part in MSNBC impeachment hearing coverage MORE, George Soros, the U.S. Embassy and the FBI to allegedly intervene in the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Basically, Ukraine’s prosecutor general keeps us busy with protecting ourselves and distracts us from fighting corruption, which remains pervasive and the biggest unchecked problem in Ukraine. 

Lutsenko knows AntAC well. We criticize him constantly, and for good reason. 

First, we have consistently criticized Lutsenko for covering up corruption and undermining the reform of the prosecutor’s office. In addition, Lutsenko’s Prosecutor General’s Office (PGO) has been systematically attacking the newly established National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which is doing outstanding work and has tried to bring 189 cases to justice; we drew public attention to this pressure. AntAC published an article explaining how the PGO failed to investigate the corruption of former President Yanukovych, which caused the European Union (EU) to waive personal sanctions against 10 out of 22 ex-officials of Ukraine sanctioned by the EU in early 2014. Together with other civil society organizations, we have criticized Lutsenko for refusing to investigate dozens of physical attacks on activists. 

For obstructing justice, undermining reforms, covering perpetrators of human rights violations and alleged corruption, Lutsenko should be added to the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control list.  

Second, since 2016, AntAC has faced a series of well-planned attacks from various corrupt officials and oligarchs. Smear campaigns on national TV owned by oligarchsfake newspolitical harassmentphysical attacks, U.S. lobbyists hired to intimidate AntAC in foreign media and among decision-makers in the West — we’ve seen all that. 

Solomon’s columns are even more problematic because he did not request a comment from us after he interviewed Lutsenko. We are frustrated that The Hill published a series of sensational columns that attracted thousands of shares in social media based on one interview with Ukraine’s prosecutor general.

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AntAC is a Ukrainian NGO made up of concerned citizens who are fed up with political corruption in our country. Since 2011, we have tried to build strong democratic institutions in Ukraine. We began as a volunteer project and, since 2013, we have received funding from various sources, including the EU, the U.S., the governments of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic, the Global Fund, the Open Society Foundation, and donations from average citizens. In 2018, we received donations from more than 500 Ukrainians.  

In the middle of Ukraine’s “Revolution of Dignity” in 2013-2014, a million Ukrainians stood up against the kleptocratic regime of President Yanukovych. Our team was running a crowdfunded initiative to target the foreign assets of Yanukovych and his associates. With thousands of concerned Ukrainians in the EU and the U.S., we have arranged street protests demanding criminal investigations of money-laundering and the freezing of Western assets of the Yanukovych regime. We targeted Western enablers of the Ukrainian regime, as it was impossible to trigger legal actions against corrupt Ukrainian officials who controlled law enforcement and the judiciary. We are happy our documented evidence of Yanukovych’s corruption reached the U.S. Justice Department and the FBI, as well as to Austrian, Swiss, Italian, British and other Western countries’ law enforcement. 

To date, we continue to gather publicly available evidence of corruption and submit this to the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, as well as to foreign prosecutors. We do this because we strongly believe that impunity for stealing billions from taxpayers is a key root of all other problems in Ukraine, as well as in many other countries in the developing world. 

I am ashamed of the rot in the prosecutor general’s office. My country, which is at war with Russia, deserves so much more. We want and deserve better leaders, and we will fight until we get them. To sustain the rule-of-law reforms and break the vicious cycle of corruption and impunity, Ukraine cannot survive without U.S. assistance and support.  

Daria Kaleniuk is co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Anticorruption Action Centre, based in Kyiv. She earned a master’s degree in financial services as a Fulbright scholar in the U.S., and she is frequently cited as an anti-corruption and money-laundering expert in Ukrainian and international media.