Ukrainian PGO to sue over a tweetJanuary 7, 2016
Somewhat bizarrely, considering the amount of less than complimentary domestic social media commentary over the current Prosecutor General of Ukraine, Viktor Shokin, the PGO’s office seems to have taken an extreme dislike to a tweet by Hannah Thoburn, who when asked how to more efficiently tackle corruption in Ukraine, tweeted:
@chastime Removing Prosecutor Gen. Shokin from office. Cleaning up the Customs Service.
— Hannah Thoburn (@HannahThoburn) January 5, 2016
Thoughts it has to be said that have been publicly aired, and written, by numerous Ukrainian MPs (127 of which have/had signed a motion to dismiss him from the post).
That tweet seems to have incensed the PGO and PGO’s Office. For whatever reason however, the PGO’s office has decided to go after Ms Thoburn.
“I want all officially announce that we are preparing for international courts. The charges and the statement of Hannah Thoburn really angers us. We consider it unreasonable and unfounded. To accuse someone without proof is not allowed to anybody. Even renowned experts” – Assistant Attorney General Vladislav Kutsenko
However, nowhere in that tweet does Ms Thoburn call the Prosecutor General corrupt. She states his removal will speed the anti-corruption effort. Of what does she accuse the Prosecutor General? Where is her accusation of his personal direct (or even indirect) involvement of corruption – or anything else – in her tweet? It is simply not there.
To be blunt, the US Embassy in Kyiv have stated publicly many times, that the Prosecutor General’s Office obstructs the reform effort – and the Prosecutor General is responsible for the results of the institution he presides over.
“That obstacle is the failure of the institution of the Prosecutor General of Ukraine to successfully fight internal corruption. Rather than supporting Ukraine’s reforms and working to root out corruption, corrupt actors within the Prosecutor General’s office are making things worse by openly and aggressively undermining reform” – US Ambassador Pyatt, 25th September 2015.
Ergo, a call to remove the current Prosecutor General from office does not necessarily infer directly or indirectly that he is corrupt – it simply states that his removal would possibly (depending upon replacement) make reform and thus the anti-corruption effort swifter in achieving results both internally of the PGO’s office and more generally. Again, let us be blunt, there is hardly a long list of headline PGO anti-corruption prosecutions – let alone successful convictions
To state the removal of the current PGO from office will (probably) assist in fighting corruption is not the same thing as saying the current PGO is corrupt – and no international court will take the view that it does.
Mr Kutsenko then continues that in suing Ms Thoburn “And believe me, we require as compensation for a very significant amount of money, which Shokin will then send to volunteers and the support of the Ukrainian army“.
Your author will take the very unusual step of offering Mr Kutsenko and the Ukrainian PGO;s office some free advice – do not make that international court a London court – or any court in the UK. Having spent 16 years dealing with UK Crown Courts, the Crown Prosecution Service et al, if the sole basis of the claim against Ms Thoburn is the content of that tweet, all that will occur is that the PGOs Office will run up substantial costs in a case it will not win – and will also end up paying the court costs of Ms Thoburn too. Loser pays all.
That the Ukrainian PGO’s office believes that an international court will take the view that the words used in her tweet will result in a successful outcome for the PGO is simply mind boggling – although if that tweet is deemed as sufficient evidence for a successful prosecution, (let alone likely to result in a successful conviction), then it goes quite some way to explaining why there are so few successful prosecutions in Ukraine that would stand up to due process and scrutiny in any international or European court.
Further, in a democracy, public figures are subject to public scrutiny and public comment – particularly when it comes to their abilities and actions, or inabilities and inactions in the office that they hold. It is called public accountability. And comment is called free speech.
There is simply nothing in Ms Thoburn’s tweet that is libelous nor defamatory regarding the PGO when it comes to accusations of his direct (or indirect) corruption or criminality. It is hard to believe a learned judge in any European or international court of any standing could or would see it that way.
It’s even harder to believe that the PGO’s office believes it has anything of a case that stands a snowball’s chance in hell of it winning in such a court. To pursue the matter will do neither the image of Mr Shokin, the PGO’s office, nor the image of Ukraine much good in the international courts, nor the international media. It certainly won’t do anything to prevent public commentary either – expert or otherwise.
Lastly, when Mr Shokin is replaced (and he will be one day) and if the PGO’s office becomes more effective, and has far less and infrequent internal institutional corruption issues under his replacement – would not then Ms Thoburn be proven to be correct in her analysis – is that not what expert comment is meant to be?
For the sake of all concerned it would be far better that this matter be quietly dropped. Somehow it is doubtful that Ms Thoburn is in the least bit concerned about having her day in an international court over this matter.