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Ukraine Leader Seeks to Dissolve Top Court After Graft Blow

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 10/30/2020 Daryna Krasnolutska and Volodymyr Verbyany
a man wearing a suit and tie: Volodymyr Zelensky © Photographer: SERGEY DOLZHENKO/AFP Volodymyr Zelensky

(Bloomberg) -- President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said he wants to dissolve Ukraine’s top court following rulings that dial back progress on fighting corruption and jeopardize billions of dollars of international aid.

Zelenskiy submitted a bill to parliament Friday to dismiss the Constitutional Court’s judges and asked lawmakers to restore anti-graft legislation that it struck down this week. It wasn’t immediately clear whether the court could be dissolved as Zelenskiy suggested.

Zelenskiy called the court’s decisions “worthless” and accused the justices of a conflict of interest. Parliament will convene next week, though there’s no date set for Zelenskiy’s bill to be debated.

The court’s head accused the president of attempting a “constitutional coup.”

Ukraine is struggling to win approval for the next tranche of a $5 billion International Monetary Fund loan just as daily Covid-19 infections hit record highs. While officials have repeatedly said a deal can be reached by year-end, concerns over the corruption agenda and central bank independence represent major obstacles. Backsliding on anti-graft efforts could also endanger Ukraine’s visa-free regime with European Union.

“The court’s ruling can’t be annulled and there are clear procedures and reasons for a judge’s dismissal,” said Petro Stetsyuk, a former constitutional court justice who’s now a legal expert at the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies in Kyiv. “Zelenskiy’s draft law isn’t in line with this process.”

Read more: Ukraine’s Leader Vows to Act as Court Rulings Risk IMF Cash

Rulings by the Constitutional Court “threaten national security,” Zelenskiy said Thursday. “We won’t have money, we won’t have support. We’ll have a huge hole in the budget.” He instructed law enforcement to check “all the details” of the court’s ruling.

The court’s actions call into question commitments Ukraine assumed in relation to its international partners, including the EU, the European Commission said by emailed. It urged the government to reinstate the effective functioning of the anti-corruption system as soon as possible, calling the legislation “one of the key benchmarks and commitments” Ukraine has taken in the framework of the visa-liberalization process.

Protesters gathered Friday outside the Constitutional Court, setting tires on fire and throwing flares as they demanded that the judges resign.

(Updates with EU reaction in penulimate paragraph.)

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