A court in Kiev has found Petro Melnyk the former Rector of Ukraine’s National Tax Service University not guilty of abuse of office for selling university properties to a company owned by his family for one-third of the market value. While the court found that the sale of four campus buildings to a company owned by his wife, son and father-in-law was carried out without permission from the tax inspectorate, it did not find Melnyk guilty of embezzlement or abuse of power. The court accepted his claim that even though he had initiated the sale of the buildings, he was unaware that his family’s company was in the running to buy them. The prosecution argued that the properties, which were sold for 10,87 million UAH, despite having a market value of 33,44 million UAH, were knowingly under-priced by Melnyk. The court rejected this assertion, saying there was no evidence that Melnyk had any influence over the sale price.
A civil suit filed by the university to be reimbursed of the 33.44 million UAH was also thrown out by the court.
If Melnyk had been found guilty he could have faced 12 years in jail for the offence, but it is not the first time he has escaped corruption charges. In 2013 Melnyk was held under house arrest after being accused of accepting a 120,000 UAH bribe only to escape for a time to America. He was arrested again when he returned to Ukraine but was acquitted of the charges in court the following year on the grounds that there was no proof that the 120,000 UAH was not a “donation.”
Melnyk’s acquittal has raised the ire of anti-graft campaigners who are pushing for the establishment of a special anti-corruption court independent of the rest of the judicial system which critics say is riddled with corruption. President Petro Poroshenko, who has recently been chastised by the West for backsliding on his promised cleanup of Ukrainian public life, has said he expects to see the bill establishing the special court to be drafted this week and the new institution to be up and running before the end of next year.