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A group of members of European Parliament have addressed chair of Ukraine's ruling Servant of the People parliamentary faction David Arakhamia in an open letter, warning of their intention to consider lifting visa-free travel privileges off of a number of Ukrainian oligarchs and politicians.
The joint address was signed by Viola von Cramon, Vice-Chair of the EP delegation to the Ukraine-EU Commission, Michael Gahler, EP rapporteur on Ukraine, and MEP Rasa Juknevičienė.
In the letter, the MEPs explain to David Arakhamia, who had earlier publicly questioned EU's concerns over the anti-corruption reform issues, that the danger of Ukraine losing the visa-free regime and financial assistance is not a rumor.
In fighting corruption, the Ukrainian government inspired hope in its early days, the letter says, adding: "President himself envisaged 'Ukraine of his dreams' where 'teachers receive real salaries – and corrupt officials real jail time'. 17 months later, we cannot but see that the dream is showing cracks and many of those cracks are knee-deep in your party, Mr. Arakhamia."
Read also Zelensky calls on lawmakers to quickly approve anti-graft strategy until 2024 "We cannot but see that some members of Sluha Narodu are spreading Kremlin-backed disinformation while orchestrating well-organized attacks on independent institutions like NBU [National Bank], NABU [National Anti-corruption Bureau], and SAP [Specialized Anti-corruption Prosecutor's Office]. The same members do not shy away from rubbing shoulders with oligarchs and “untouchables” or publicly advocating for cutting ties with the EU," MEPs stress.
"[T]he praised reforms are backsliding, and the SAPO head is posed to be elected by a commission that lacks significant anti-corruption experience, reputation, high moral qualities, and public authority," they add.
The signatories "cannot but see the general prosecutor downplaying the allegations of corrupted judges, a health minister allegedly attempting to kickback in the very midst of a pandemic, and the scandalous case of selling state posts for exuberant amounts of money collecting dust on the prosecutor's table."
"All this endangers particularly the EUR1.2 Billion Macro-Financial Assistance not because we want it so, but because the mutual agreements that you and we concluded foresee it," the letter notes.
The European Commission's 2020 report, MEPs say, "clearly stated that the Ukrainian side should 'ensure the independence, effectiveness and sustainability of the anti-corruption institutional framework and avoid politicisation of the work of all law enforcement agencies. In particular address persisting concerns with the independence and integrity of SAPO, including by ensuring a credible selection procedure for the next SAPO Head'."
Read also Top contender for post of SAPO chief named – media Also, the Memorandum of Understanding concluded between the EU and Ukraine for a EUR 1.2 billion assistance also emphasizes the crucial need for "the independent and effective operation of the anti-corruption institutions and of the prosecution, including by: conducting merit-based competitions."
With regard to the visa-free regime, "it is by no means the intention from the EU side to abolish this great achievement for all Ukrainian and the EU citizens – still, we will reserve the right to impose the specific denial of such freedoms to individual oligarchs and policy-makers who abuse this right for their private illegal activities."
At the same time, MEPs believe that "besides the dozens of bad apples, your party is also a platform for energetic, intelligent, and honest lawmakers who are committed to putting the country’s national interests above everything else and fighting for its European future."
"Unfortunately, they are minority and thus not always heard," reads the letter.
"We strongly believe that these progressive, reform-oriented lawmakers of Sluha Narodu [Servant of the People] should become the main buttress of your government in order to reinvigorate the zeal for reforms and put the country back on the democratization track. Only this way will Ukraine manage to retain the well-earned benefits of the EU-integration and also strive for much more. Through the Eastern Partnership's 'more for more' principle, it's you who defines how deep the integration will go."
New SAPO chief selection row
On August 21, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova signed an order to dismiss Deputy Prosecutor General and SAPO chief Nazar Kholodnytsky, approving his resignation.
On September 17, the Verkhovna Rada appointed parliamentary members to the commission to select the new SAPO chief: Olena Busol, Andriy Hudzhal, Oleksiy Drozd, Kateryna Koval, Bohdan Romaniuk, Viacheslav Navrotsky, and Yevhen Sobol.
The European Parliament's Rapporteur for Ukraine, Michael Gahler, and Vice-Chair of Delegation to the EU-Ukraine Parliamentary Association Committee Viola von Cramon expressed concern over the Verkhovna Rada's move.
"While international community is occupied with Belarus, Ukraine government is hastily pushing candidates lacking experience and integrity to select SAPO head. This will not fly. Ukraine's Government is jeopardizing visa-free with the EU and further trance of EUR1.5 billion assistance," Viola von Cramon-Taubadel wrote on Twitter on September 17, 2020.
The U.S. Embassy in Kyiv also commented on the developments. "The U.S. and the EU take note of the Rada decision to appoint members to the commission to choose the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor. The commission needs to embark on a transparent process with candidates' integrity and merits at its core. Our further support will depend upon it," the Embassy wrote on Facebook on September 17.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he fully supports the transparent process of selecting the chief of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office(SAPO).
Ambassador of the European Union to Ukraine and Head of the EU Delegation Matti Maasikas says no irreparable actions have taken place so far in the situation regarding EU visa-free travel and the EU will be closely monitoring anti-corruption institutions in Ukraine.