The U.S. ambassador to Kyiv has called on Ukrainian authorities to fire the country’s special anticorruption prosecutor and tackle its corruption problem.
Marie Yovanovitch made the calls in a speech given in Kyiv on March 5, less than four weeks before Ukraine holds a crucial presidential election, with the incumbent, Petro Poroshenko, trailing in the polls.
Western officials have repeatedly voiced frustration that Poroshenko has not done enough to root our rampant corruption.
Yovanovitch’s speech, which echoed that frustration, was notable not only for its timing, but also its bluntness, from a foreign diplomat.
In her speech, Yovanovitch said that the chief of the Special Anticorruption Prosecutor’s Office, Nazar Kholodnytskyy, should be replaced to ensure the integrity of the anticorruption institutions.
The government's efforts have "not yet resulted in the anticorruption or rule-of-law reforms that Ukrainians expect or deserve,” the U.S. ambassador said.
"Nobody who has been recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges can be trusted to prosecute those very same cases," she also said.
Kholodnytskyy has been accused of assisting officials suspected of corruption to avoid prosecution.
Speaking to several media outlets on March 6, Kholodnytskyy refused to comment on what he called "interference into another country's internal affairs."
In July 2018, Ukraine's Disciplinary Commission for Prosecutor's Qualification (KDPK) rejected a request by the Prosecutor-General's Office to fire Kholodnytskyy and ruled to reprimand him.
Yovanovitch made the critical remarks a day before U.S. Undersecretary of State David Hale's visit to Kyiv, during which he is expected to discuss Ukraine's anticorruption efforts, among other things.
Last month, the Constitutional Court overturned a law criminalizing illicit enrichment, raising concerns about the Ukrainian government's resolve to fight endemic corruption.
After the ruling, the National Anticorruption Bureau announced that it was forced to close 65 corruption cases under investigation.
Last week, a Ukrainian media outlet published an investigation into alleged embezzlement schemes in the country's military industry that involved members of President Petro Poroshenko's inner circle.
Referring to the report, Yovanovitch called for a complete audit of a state-owned military procurement company and greater transparency for defense contracts.
Western officials say corruption hurts Ukraine's chances of throwing off the influence of Russia, which seized the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 and backs separatists whose war with Kyiv has killed about 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine since April 2014.
Poroshenko was elected in the aftermath of the annexation of Crimea and is hoping to secure another five year term in the March 31 election. Polls show him trailing comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyy by about 9 percentage points and barely ahead of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.