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showdown between President Zelensky and the Constitutional Court

A year and a half after his election as head of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky came up against resistance from the notoriously corrupt judicial system and found himself engaged in a standoff with the Constitutional Court. The Head of State announced Tuesday, December 29, the suspension for two months of the President of the Court, accused of corruption. Oleksandre Toupytsky is suspected of witness tampering and of having delivered in 2018 and 2019 “False testimony” in the context of a criminal case, announced the general prosecutor’s office.

Mr. Zelensky, elected in April 2019 on his promise, in particular, to fight corruption, suspended the magistrate “In the name of the restoration of justice and that of the resolution of the constitutional crisis”. The sanction is part of a wider campaign to reform this jurisdiction, whose judges were appointed by former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych, and whose decision to overturn a series of anti-corruption measures, in October , raised an outcry in the country and fueled the concern of its international donors.

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The Constitutional Court, however, rejected, Wednesday, December 30, the decision of the president, calling it “Legally null and void”, and specified that she would not respect it. According to her, the Constitution does not provide for the suspension of a constitutional judge, but authorizes his dismissal if this decision is voted by a majority of the members of the Court.

Unsuccessful reform attempts

This case highlights the deep crisis of the Ukrainian judicial system, plagued by corruption and undermined by several unsuccessful reform attempts. Oleksandre Toupytsky is one of the magistrates who defended the court’s controversial decision to overturn the series of anti-corruption measures.

Seized by some fifty pro-Russian deputies, the court announced in October that it had canceled some of the anti-corruption laws in force for several years, deeming them too severe. In particular, it abolished criminal liability for officials convicted of false income statements – an offense punishable until then by two years in prison -, closed access to all the statements published online, and reduced the powers of the government agency responsible for monitoring these documents.

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This decision had a strong impact in Ukraine and highlighted the evils of the justice system. Volodymyr Zelensky called it “Threat to national security”. More than a thousand people, including many anti-corruption activists, protested in front of the court. The ambassadors of the G7 countries themselves have said “Alarmed”. For his part, Oleksandre Toupytsky had accused the presidency of seeking to muzzle his institution.

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