Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have closely followed developments in Ukraine including aspects of the human, security and economic dimensions. My desire is that Ukraine consolidates its independence by strengthening democratic institutions, including the judiciary, and undertaking reforms to improve the business climate essential to attracting much-needed foreign investment.
Twelve years after independence, the people of Ukraine deserve to enjoy the fruits of freedom and prosperity, but obstacles remain. Bringing Ukraine more fully into Europe is both essential to the country’s long-term economic success and important for European security. Accelerating Ukraine’s movement toward Europe is timely and needed. While high-ranking Ukrainian officials pay lip service to such integration, the jury is still out as to whether they are prepared to take the bold steps that will be required to advance such integration. An important barometer for the future will be the extent to which the country’s moves to confront the corruption and crime that retard the process of democratization and economic liberalization and erode Ukraine’s security and independence.
While those at the top say the right things, there is justified skepticism as to their sincerity. This is certainly the case concerning Ukraine’s current President, Leonid Kuchma. The controversies surrounding Kuchma undercut his credibility with respect to the issue of combating corruption. Nevertheless, this should not detract from the urgency of tackling corruption in the lead up to the presidential elections to select Kuchma’s successor in 2004.
Meanwhile, those serious about rooting out corruption and corrupt officials should take a hard look at the handling, or more accurately, the mishandling, of Ukrainian and foreign owned businesses. For example, United States-owned businesses have been victimized through expropriations, asset thefts, extortion and the like perpetrated or abetted by corrupt officials and courts in Ukraine. While new cases continue to occur, longstanding cases remain unresolved with investors unable to obtain the relief to which they are entitled under Ukrainian and international law.
Although the State Department has made repeated representations about these cases at senior levels of the Kuchma administration, Kyiv rebuffed repeated requests to resolve them in accordance with the law. At the same time it refuses to punish the perpetrators of the criminal acts or take corrective measures to prevent similar cases from arising.
If the victims are to ever achieve a measure of justice, it is essential that U.S. officials raise these cases at every appropriate opportunity.
In one especially egregious and illustrative case, well-connected individuals in Ukraine were able to orchestrate the seizure of all the assets of a successful pharmaceutical joint venture which was half owned by United States investors. When, 6 years after the theft the Ukrainian appeals courts finally dismissed the spurious claims to the assets on grounds that they were based entirely on forged and falsely fabricated documents, senior Ukrainian officials launched into action. Within weeks of these judicial decisions, the Ukrainian President reportedly convened a meeting of senior officials, including the cognizant senior judges and his own senior law enforcement and national security cabinet level officers, at which he made clear that he did not want the stolen assets restored to their rightful American owners.
The courts quickly complied, without explanation, and in disregard of the copious evidence before them, the judges reversed the decisions taken just two months earlier and held in favor of the claimants. Several months later longstanding criminal charges against the same individuals were dropped.
The circumstances surrounding this case and others involving United States investors are indicative of the far reaching scope of corruption and the rule of law deficit in Ukraine today. While the matter was repeatedly raised by the State Department several years ago, I am concerned that the Ukrainian side might assume that the matter is a closed case. I urge officials at the Departments of State and Commerce to disabuse Ukrainian Government officials of such an impression.
If the Kuchma administration is serious about rooting out corruption and advancing democracy and the rule of law, these cases provide a good starting point. Only time will tell if they are up to the challenge.