• A wolf in judge’s clothing

    Presidents change, Vovk keeps smiling. Photo: Babel.

    Helping corrupt officials avoid punishment, “burying” laws, enjoying an inexplicably luxurious lifestyle on his modest state salary are just a few things of which Ukrainian judge Pavlo Vovk is suspected.

    In 2010 ― at the age of only 31 ― he headed the District Administrative Court of Kyiv, an entity responsible for solving disputes with state officials and structures. This court decided whether a law adopted by the Ukrainian parliament could be put into practice, or whether a decision to ban a political party financed by Russia was legal. Vovk could influence such cases and, according to state prosecutors, he took advantage of his position.

    Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities published several tapped recordings of Vovk’s conversations. They are full of phrases such as “I’m totally for any lawlessness in the Ukrainian court system” and others which imply he can act on the wishes of this or that top politician.

    Pavlo Vovk admits these recordings are true. But he says the accusations are no more than an attempt at revenge. Ukrainian anti-corruption bodies are trying to influence the court, because many of the cases they started have been stuck there. When asked why, he said: “I am strong, and the court is independent.”

    “Vovk” means “wolf” in Ukrainian, which was a gift for headline writers, who titled articles “Living by wolf rules” or “Wolf justice”. His court was popularly called “the justice shop”. For years, he was notorious and untouchable.

    Despite all the hatred, protests and legal suspicions against him, Vovk kept his post until late 2022. Different presidents ― Victor Yanukovych, Petro Poroshenko, Volodymyr Zelenskyy ― answered questions about him and his court with vagueness and a lack of decision. He seemed to be too influential and useful. Finally, on 9 December last year, the USA imposed sanctions on Vovk “for soliciting bribes in return for interfering in judicial and other public processes”. After this, the war-torn and West-dependent Ukrainian state finally gave up Vovk ― by disbanding the court.

    Now part of Vovk’s routine is attending hearings against him. These cases are also stuck in the judicial system.

    This article is part of the "Justice on trial" edition
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