The Volokh Conspiracy

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Ukraine Chief Justice, Who Was A Guest at SCOTUS Last Month, Charged With Accepting $1.8 Million Bribe

I happened to be at the Court when Chief Justice Roberts extended a welcome.


When the Supreme Court hosts foreign dignitaries, the Chief Justice will often recognize those guests and extend a welcome on behalf of the Court. (Dignitaries are usually seated in the first row of the public section, right behind the "bar."). I attended oral argument on April 24. At the outset of the session, Chief Justice Roberts announced that the Chief Justice of the Ukraine Supreme Court was in attendance, and welcomed him to the Court. At the time, I was honored by the jurist's presence. It is difficult to fathom how to manage a justice system while your country is at war. (Our country had mixed results with war on the homefront, see Merryman and McCardle). And despite all of the difficulties back home, he still found the time to come to the United States. I hoped his visit would provide some support for the rule of law back in Ukraine. Chief Justice Roberts then moved onto bar admissions, and I filed the Ukrainian Chief Justice's visit in my memory banks.

This evening, the NY Times reported that Chief Justice Vsevolod Knyazev was arrested on charges of accepting a bribe.

The chief of Ukraine's Supreme Court was formally arrested Thursday, as prosecutors indicated in a second day of hearings that a high-level corruption case was expanding to include a wider circle of judges.

Prosecutors also accused a lawyer of acting as an intermediary in paying a bribe to the chief justice, and said that at least three other judges of the court had been found holding thousands of dollars in currency marked by investigators.

The chief justice, Vsevolod Knyazev, was apprehended just after midnight Tuesday by officers of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine, who searched his home and office in simultaneous raids and said they found large sums of cash in U.S. currency.

In videos of court hearings Wednesday and Thursday, posted on the High Anti-Corruption Court's YouTube channel, Mr. Knyazev appeared in the courtroom wearing a bright blue sweater and flanked by his lawyers. The High Council of Justice on Thursday lifted his immunity from prosecution, opening the way for his formal arrest.

Mr. Knyazev has been charged with graft in a public office, and accused of accepting a bribe of $1.8 million to influence a case in favor of a Ukrainian oligarch, Kostyantyn Zhevago. A prosecutor said Mr. Knyazev had sent a message to the lawyer in early May to split the money into at least 14 separate bags, and later sent a message saying he had passed the money to other judges.

The Anti-Corruption Court's prosecutor, Oleksandr Omelchenko, told the court that officers had tracked the payment of the first tranche of the bribe on May 3, and raided Mr. Knyazev's home half an hour after a second tranche was handed over on Monday evening.

The anti-corruption bureau had infiltrated the group making the bribe and marked the notes used in the payment. Officers discovered $1.8 million in cash at Mr. Knyazev's home and office, but the prosecutor said that not all the bribe money, totaling $2.7 million, had been recovered.

Barely a week after Knyazev was greeted so warmly by Chief Justice Roberts, he was soliciting a bribe, to be divided into 14 separate bags.

There is concern that this incident would tarnish the perception of the Ukrainian judiciary:

The case has shocked and dismayed members of Ukraine's judiciary. Two Supreme Court judges in interviews lamented the damage to the reputation of the court and the judiciary. They said they worked through the night and most of Tuesday to prepare a ballot in which 140 of the 142 Supreme Court judges voted to remove Mr. Knyazev from his post. The two judges spoke on condition of anonymity, because of their position as members of the court.

Knyazev also met with Attorney General Garland on his trip.

I'm sure readers will try to make some smarmy connection between Knyazev and the United States Supreme Court's legitimacy. I won't. I am grateful that our federal judges have integrity and honesty, and these sorts of allegations would be unthinkable.