Ukraine’s president ordered the suspension of the country’s chief justice, escalating a power struggle between the government and the constitutional court that has threatened anti-corruption reforms and derailed multibillion-dollar funding from the IMF and donors western funds.
The presidential decree signed by Volodymyr Zelensky on Tuesday evening suspends Oleksandr Tupytsky, head of the Constitutional Court, for two months for ignoring a summons in connection with allegations of corruption and witness tampering while he was a regional judge several years ago. many years.
But Mr Zelensky made it clear that the move was part of a broader effort to reform a court that in October ruled that the anti-corruption institutions created as conditions for financial support from the IMF and the West were unconstitutional.
The move was sparked by calls from pro-Russian MPs and backed by oligarchs who form a minority in Ukraine’s parliament and oppose reform efforts and Kiev’s engagement with the IMF.
In a statement, Mr. Zelensky said, “I am signing this decree in order to restore justice and resolve the constitutional crisis.”
It was not immediately clear whether the Constitutional Court, where a majority of judges recently ruled in accordance with Mr Tupytsky, would abide by the president’s decree. The court had previously warned that such a decision by Mr Zelensky would be unconstitutional.
The court issued a statement saying that the judges will meet to decide whether or not to suspend Mr. Tupytsky.
He said that the exclusion of judges “is adopted exclusively by the Constitutional Court of Ukraine in an extraordinary plenary session, and no other body or official can adopt such a decision in its place”.
Mr. Zelensky seems to be trying to gradually oust Mr. Tupytsky and other judges appointed to the court years ago by Viktor Yanukovych, the former pro-Russian president of Ukraine who fled to Russia during the Maidan revolution of 2014.
Pro-Western deputies in the Ukrainian parliament have submitted legislation that would overhaul the power of the court, increase the quorum and change the number of votes required for the adoption of decisions.
the the crisis has been triggered by two controversial court rulings this fall that sparked Mr Zelensky’s unsuccessful and unconstitutional push for Parliament to dissolve the court and re-establish it. MPs have so far refused to vote on the relevant legislation submitted by Mr Zelensky, leaving the president to look for other ways to gradually reform the court.
In October, the court ruled that mandatory declarations of public property by officials were unconstitutional.
Several judges in the court were investigated for inconsistency in their statements, but did not refrain from ruling on the matter. Mr Tupytsky was under investigation for possession of lavish property in the Kiev area and for failing to report property in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula occupied by Russia in 2014.
The court ruled in September that Artem Sytnyk, head of the NABU anti-corruption bureau, had been illegally appointed by presidential decree by Mr Zelensky’s predecessor. Without a mechanism to replace him, Mr. Sytnyk retained his post.
Ukraine’s parliament this month reinstated a watered-down version of the asset declaration system. But to unfreeze Western loans and a $ 5 billion IMF program, he must strengthen the legislation by reintroducing prison sentences for officials who lie in their statements.
At the beginning of the month, the Venice Commission, a European judicial watchdog, delivered its findings on the deadlock, criticizing the court’s rulings on anti-corruption infrastructure and concluding that “reform of the Constitutional Court is warranted”.
EU officials said the constitutional crisis underlined the need for Ukraine to continue cracking down on corruption, including through “solid judicial reform”.