A year has passed since the Prosecutor General replaced a group of prosecutors in high-profile investigations of the NABU, the person involved in which is Oleh Tatarov, deputy head of the Presidential Office. That act of Iryna Venediktova came as a surprise to everyone, but it was only the beginning of a story that, as it seems, would not end soon.

Overview of the Ukrbud scheme

It all started in the noughties, when the Chief Directorate of Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, later reorganized into the National Guard, and the construction company Ukrbud signed an agreement under which a residential complex was to be built on the territory of the former military unit in Pechersk. The process dragged on for years, and in 2016-2017, the parties concluded additional agreements, which were unprofitable for the country. According to them, the National Guard refused apartments in favor of other 65 apartments that Ukrbud built on Chervonyi Khutir. At the time of forming these new agreements, the construction corporation was headed by Maksym Mykytas, who later became an MP. Everything would have been fine if not for the difference in the price of housing, but it was about UAH 81.64 mln. That’s precisely how many losses detectives counted after the embezzlement in the case of the apartments of the National Guard.

After the investigation of Bihus.Info in 2017, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau for its part took this case. Gradually, the circle of suspects expanded, the number of episodes in it increased, and, finally, Oleh Tatarov, who worked as a lawyer at Ukrbud before working in the Presidential Office, came to the attention of detectives.  

He is suspected of organizing the bribery of Kostiantyn Dubonos, expert of the Kyiv Scientific Research Institute of Forensic Expertise of the Ministry of Justice of Ukraine. The latter had to forge documents that would hide losses and confirm the legality of contracts, and Tatarov for this had to give him a bribe in the form of a parking space in the Aristokrat residential complex worth UAH 250,000.  

Further steps of the NABU and the SAPO were quite predictable, but on August 5, 2020, Oleh Tatarov turned from a lawyer of Ukrbud into deputy head of the Presidential Office for law enforcement issues. This change has become crucial for the whole story.

Bury the case: a step-by-step guide by the Prosecutor General’s Office

On December 1, 2020, SAPO prosecutors were ready to serve Tatarov with charges, but did not have time. The night before, at 11:42 pm, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova, without studying the materials, without letting the procedural managers know, and absolutely illogically replaced the prosecutors in the case. Perhaps, to fully control the course of events, she included herself in a new group of prosecutors. 

The NABU quickly responded and tried to fight back to confirm the need to serve Tatarov with charges. Detectives published correspondence that described in detail the process of organizing the transfer of a bribe. All this data was passed on to detectives by Maksym Mykytas, who, having concluded an agreement with the investigation, tried to reduce further punishment for himself in this way. However, the process of disrupting the case was already unstoppable. 

The next tricky move was made by the Pechersk District Court. On December 14, judge Serhii Vovk obliged Venediktova to transfer the case from the NABU to the State Bureau of Investigation. SAPO prosecutors contested this decision with the HACC Appeals Chamber, and in the end, Tatarov was served with charges. 

But we got excited too soon.

On December 23, 2020, deputy Prosecutor General Oleksii Symonenko helped Tatarov avoid any criminal liability by transferring the case from the NABU jurisdiction to the SBU. 90 days will pass, and the investigation period will expire. It won’t be extended, and materials about Tatarov are still in the SBU. 

Can there be any progress in the “dead” case? The question is rhetorical. Because all the above actions, obviously, are not improvisations of the Prosecutor General. The obedient “ober-procurator” did what she was instructed to do by Bankova, under whose protection Oleh Tatarov is.

What did this case show us?

Tatarov’s case became very illustrative last year, and everything laid down then only continued to develop in the last year. 

It was his appointment to the post that caused real indignation with society. After all, Tatarov is known for the fact that during the Revolution of Dignity, as deputy Interior Minister Zakharchenko, he supported the dispersal of protesters. 

Tatarov’s case demonstrated for the first time, but unquestioningly, that the current government interferes in anti-corruption investigations when their person is under suspicion. Despite the evidence of the NABU, Oleh Tatarov still works as deputy head of the Presidential Office and oversees law enforcement. Moreover, after being served with charges, Tatarov was deprived of some of his powers related to cooperation with the NABU and the SBU. However, in the summer, by Presidential Order, his powers were restored, and in October, they were even expanded; according to journalists, under the new Order, Tatarov oversees the sphere of criminal justice. 

And the worst thing is that the President himself did not see any conflict of interest or problems in this precedent in general. A prime example is the answer of Volodymyr Zelenskyy regarding this. He said: “I didn’t even pay attention to it.” In general, if the powers were restored, then it was necessary. From the President’s remarks, it is clear that he thought that the case was closed, so everything happened in this way.

This is a rather strange reaction because during the previous year, both the media and civil society organizations insisted on investigating this case and dismissing the dishonored civil servant from the PO. It turns out that Zelenskyy ignored all these appeals, reminders, and even mass protests.

Even more — in the summer of 2021, 25,000 Ukrainians signed a petition for Tatarov’s resignation. However, Volodymyr Zelenskyy deliberately refused to do this because “no one can be forced to do something that is not provided for by law.” Since this offense was committed before Tatarov’s appointment as deputy head of the PO, he shouldn’t be suspended for this.  

In fact, the open “covering up” for people close to the authorities can become a bad role model. The direct interference of the Prosecutor General’s Office in high-profile SAPO cases discredits the work of the entire anti-corruption ecosystem and calls into question the independence of such investigations. Given the equally controversial stories about MPs Trukhin and Tyshchenko, it becomes clear that none of their close persons will be punished.

Finally, it is worth recalling that the destruction of the case of Tatarov became possible due to the lack of a full-fledged head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office. Iryna Venediktova could do everything that she did because it is she who has had such powers in the absence of the SAPO head. This, in turn, a year ago shed light on the urgent need to quickly conduct a competition for the election of the SAPO head.

For more than a year, the selection commission has been trying to elect the head of SAPO, but this process is constantly delayed. This can be beneficial both for high-profile corrupt officials who face charges, and for government officials who, through the Prosecutor General, try to directly influence the investigation of “harmful” cases. Although during a recent press marathon, the President stated that the commission does not include Tatarov’s people, the public has long known that Yermak’s deputy directly influences the competition.  

And the worst thing is that this vicious circle of corruption does not allow the entire anti-corruption ecosystem to function. Moreover, the successful election of the SAPO head is not a whim, but a direct obligation of Ukraine to international partners, the fulfillment of which has been postponed again.

We cannot predict how many more such Tatarovs the authorities will be able to save during this time.

Tatarov’s case demonstrated for the first time, but unquestioningly, that the current government interferes in anti-corruption investigations when their person is under suspicion. Despite the evidence of the NABU, Oleh Tatarov still works as deputy head of the Presidential Office and oversees law enforcement.