22:11 GMT +319 November 2019
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    US Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt

    Ukrainian Factional Quagmire Ensnares US Amb. Pyatt in Corruption Probe

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    American Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey R. Pyatt has unexpectedly found himself at the center of a corruption scandal as the country’s prosecutor’s office is considering interrogating him in connection with the alleged disappearance of funds intended for the agency.

    The matter has arisen from a convergence of unusual circumstances. Obviously, no Ukrainian official in their right mind would ever dare to challenge, at least openly, a US official, let alone an American ambassador.

    After the 2014 Maidan revolution that saw the ouster of popularly elected president Viktor Yanukovych and the coming to power of the US-backed regime of President Petro Poroshenko, the US ambassador has been a source of authority in the country and an arbiter between its politicians. Yet now, in a bizarre twist of events, Ambassador Pyatt seems to have been drawn into a controversy occasioned by an ongoing battle between rival factions in Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office. The factions have been cultivated, apparently for reasons of personal control, by President Poroshenko.

    Under Ukrainian law, the president appoints, with parliament's approval, the prosecutor general of Ukraine, and thus in effect controls the agency. To balance the influence of Prosecutor-General Viktor Shokin (allegedly also a godfather of one of the president’s children), Poroshenko invited a team of prosecutors from the former Soviet republic of Georgia, through his old friend and former president of Georgia Michael Saakashvili; these he had embedded within the agency.

    The team’s leader, David Sakvarelidze, got the position of the deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine, and then quickly came into conflict with Shokin’s team. It is notable that Sakvarelidze’s sponsor Saakashvili is wanted in his home country on various criminal charges, but Ukraine refuses to extradite him. In time accusations flew, press conferences were held, and now the two groups are openly accusing each other of corruption.

    One episode focuses on alleged embezzlement by Sakvarelidze’s team of funds provided to the prosecutor’s office by the US and EU governments for the training of personnel and other reforms. As reported by respected Ukrainian weekly Korrespondent, the agency, or rather the faction of the agency which is loyal to Prosecutor-General Shokin, has been considering interrogating Ambassador Pyatt to get to the bottom of things.

    Now, this looks like overkill. Leaving aside its practicalities, there is little doubt that the initiative was but a figure of speech thrown around for dramatic effect, and will quickly be retracted.

    Ambassador Pyatt thus should have no fear of anything, much less of being interrogated by Ukrainian law enforcement. But the story raises a larger question. It seems reasonably beyond dispute that the US and other foreign governments have transferred, through the US embassy in Ukraine, funds directly to the prosecutor’s office.

    Yet such actions are by themselves a violation of Ukrainian law. Ukraine has legislation in place that expressly prohibits similar conduct as a form of corruption. Article 54 of the law of Ukraine “On the Prevention of Corruption” expressly prohibits receipt by Ukrainian government agencies of money or property from individuals or organizations except where expressly permitted by Ukraine's international treaties.

    Furthermore, article 2 of the law “On Sources of Financing of Governmental Agencies” provides that governmental agencies may only be financed from the central and local budgets of Ukraine. The episode highlights a violation of Ukrainian law not actually denied by the implicated parties. The US government and its personnel, as well as the Ukrainian officials accepting the funds, might have been involved in corrupt acts in Ukraine. Whether they would have done so due to their presumed impunity or through ignorance of Ukrainian law is an open question.

    In any event, the matter will likely be swept under the rug for now. Yet if the regime changes, there may be consequences, especially for the Ukrainian officials involved in the receipt of the funds, let alone their alleged embezzlement.

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    scandal, corruption, Geoffrey Pyatt, Ukraine, United States
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