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7 Oct, 2020 13:33

EU says ruling Ukrainian party 'knee-deep' in corruption: MEPs threaten Kiev with cuts to financial aid & visa-free travel

EU says ruling Ukrainian party 'knee-deep' in corruption: MEPs threaten Kiev with cuts to financial aid & visa-free travel

Three MEPs have threatened Ukraine with cuts to financial assistance and access to the EU visa-free travel regime, accusing Kiev of failing to deal with widespread corruption and of "spreading Kremlin-backed disinformation."

The threat was included in an open letter to the parliamentary faction leader of Ukraine's ruling Servant of the People party, David Arakhamia, who had previously rubbished the prospect of losing such privileges.

"[The] president himself envisaged the 'Ukraine of his dreams' where 'teachers receive real salaries – and corrupt officials real jail time,'" the letter read. "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." 

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The letter was cosigned by Viola von Cramon, vice-chair of the European Parliament delegation to the Ukraine-EU Commission, as well as MEPs Michael Gahler and Rasa Jukneviciene. It went on to accuse Kiev of "orchestrating well-organized attacks on independent institutions," such as the National Bank of Ukraine (NBU), while ruling party members rub shoulders with oligarchs.

"We cannot but see that the corruption perception in Ukraine in 2020 fell back to the 2017 mark," the letter read. "The praised reforms are backsliding."

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In July, the European Commission inked a €1.2 billion ($1.4 billion) financial assistance deal with Ukraine, in return for guarantees from Kiev that it would fight corruption and "avoid politicization of the work of all law enforcement agencies." According to the letter's signatories, Ukraine is failing to keep its end of the bargain.

In particular, the three MEPs have an issue with the independence and integrity of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO). This is currently looking to hire a new boss, after former chief Nazar Kholodnytsky resigned after "systematically facing political attempts to encroach on [SAPO's] independence and manipulate the results of [its] work."

The epistle also stated that the EU intends to keep the visa-free regime with Ukraine, but reserves the right "to impose the specific denial of such freedoms" to certain individuals.

"Dear Mr Arakhamia, come by the European Parliament next time you and President Zelensky are in Brussels. You have friends here," it concluded.

Speaking on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told the press in Brussels that "nothing threatens the visa-free regime between Ukraine and the EU," and that the country "clearly fulfills all the necessary criteria."

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