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Running the (prosecution) interference – Odessa

August 24, 2015

Saturday afternoon was spent by your author with a member of an EU Mission visiting Odessa.  The EU Mission in question relates directly to the rule of law.

For once your author was not talking to a diplomat, bureaucrat or academic (enjoyable as that always is) – this EU Mission Member was a practitioner.

The differences in conversation between diplomat/bureaucrat/academic and practitioner was, as is often the case, large.  Practitioners are, as always and often through bitter experience, far more alert to practicalities and operational limitations, than the broad brush strokes of diplomatic framing, bureaucratic enabling, and academic distance.

Even more rare an experienced practitioner relevant to the EU Mission they are in!  Somebody capable of peer to peer conversation with those any reforms are going to effect – for the better or the worse.  There is after all, always a danger with reforms that the occasional baby is thrown out with the bathwater.   In the pursuit of the best, be careful not to throw out the good with the bad.

Sometimes when you regularly engage with these different types of people and their necessarily different approaches, it often seems there is only one common theme – the high level of accuracy they expect to hear relevant to their specific lens – and often you can be left wondering just how much clever thinking falls through the gaps between the different approaches and various interlocutors.

As practitioners are such a rarity, hours of  enjoyable conversation followed relating to counter-intelligence, intelligence, organised crime, institutional resistance verses reform, best practices and quality verses quantity and/or speed, political expediency verses institutional legacy it leaves etc. – As always none of the specifics will be repeated here.

However, sticking with institutional resistance, unless readers also follow the blog twitter account, few will have noted what appears to be the institution currently providing the most – or at least the most visible – institutional resistance in Odessa.

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That institution is the Prosecutor’s Office (probably because no serious attempt to reform the judiciary has got under way yet – The judiciary may yet take the “obstruction crown”).

The reform idea for the Prosecutor’s Office is a transparent and public selection of new prosecutors.  Existing prosecutors can apply for/to keep their current jobs – unless clearly far too mired in corruption to scrape past any lustration styled checks.

The anticipated outcome is that up to 70% of the existing prosecutors will be replaced.

Many applications from lawyers have been received for the selection process.

Interviews have occurred live streamed on line.

Legislative ability has been tested, which has led to the existing prosecutor’s office claiming that vast majority of applicants are completely sub-standard. Perhaps – perhaps not.  When the option of having tests externally assessed by the Oblast leadership was floated after that claim, the claim was swiftly diluted and muffled within the local prosecutor ranks.

It now transpires that the local prosecutors are compiling a list of those prosecutors expected to continue in their roles and are attempting to force agreement – which seems highly unlikely under Governor Saakashvili who is busy trying to convince the constituency of Odessa that prior to local elections, “reform” is not only a word heard on TV spoken by politicians in Kyiv, but actually something that can tangibly occur in Odessa (the inference being “so vote the right way” and give him people he can work with – though it has yet to be stated that bluntly as the Governor remains without political party membership and is not up for election himself – thus far).

There is a long way to go with the recruitment and reform of the prosecutor’s office.  As stated, required Constitutional amendments are yet to be adopted.  The recruitment process is not expected to deliver the ultimately successful candidates for Odessa for some months, and continued and escalating institutional resistance/obstruction from the local prosecutors seems likely.  Indeed it would not be a surprise to see several of the local prosecutors threatened with prosecution, or actually prosecuted at some point in the near future should they continue to try and subvert and circumvent the selection process.

Eventually though a changing of the guard there will be.  That raises the issue of case transition/inheritance when the process is eventually completed.  It won’t be easy mid investigation, particularly if the case is a little more than “run of the mill”.  Some investigations will probably be deliberately sabotaged by the out-going prosecutors either in one last corrupt hoorah, or through spite.

Perhaps a closer eye should be kept upon the current Oblast prosecutors and apparent continuously stiffening of institutional resistance, by those driving (and funding) the reform of the prosecutors office and more generally rule of law reform in general?  It would seem prudent to do so.

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