Bribes Found in Ukraine’s Criminal Code, Literally

Ukraine state security officers arrested a law professor for the systematic extortion of bribes from students in exchange for good grades on examinations. During the search, the officers shook bank notes from the volume containing the criminal code.

February 5, 2017

On January 30, 2017, the state security service arrested an associate professor of law at Zaporizhzhya National University, a top regional higher education institution located in Zaporizhzhya, an industrial hub in Ukraine. The city is best known for its six-block nuclear power station, the largest nuclear power plant in Europe and the third largest in the world. The professor was arrested for systematic extortion of bribes from students in exchange for good grades on examinations. During the search officers discovered cash and examination lists of students with the names of those refusing to give bribes marked as “failed”. The alleged perpetrator faces charges under paragraph 3, Article 368 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, “receiving illicit benefits based on extortion and committed repeatedly,” which risks ten years in prison and the confiscation of property.

In Ukraine, the country riddled with corruption at all levels and famous for its notoriously corrupt higher education institutions, this incident would hardly make news. The fact that the bribery took place in the law school of a National University also does not make this case outstanding. With high demand for economics and law majors over the last three decades and plenty of unqualified fee-paying applicants admitted to programs, law schools have become hotbeds of corruption. And yet this case is worthy of attention because of its triviality, cynicism and irony: bribes were placed in the Criminal Code of Ukraine, literally. This is a law school, after all. During the search, the state security officers were shaking bank notes from the Criminal Code book. The video of the windfall of bank notes can be seen on the State Security Services website. The only missing information is whether the bank notes were actually between the specific pages of the Criminal Code that outline punishment for bribery.  You can’t make this stuff up!

Ukraine’s former dictator, Victor Yanukovych was complaining that the country still follows the old Soviet Criminal Code of 1962. Bribes being placed in the outdated Criminal Code of Ukraine symbolize the fusion of corruption with the well-preserved Stalinist system of education. This case is symptomatic and serves as the diagnosis to the system. In its latest ranking of least and most corrupted countries known as the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), Transparency International placed Ukraine in 131st position, similar to Iran, Kazakhstan, Nepal, and its recent adversary Russia. This is the only ranking where Ukraine scores well, while in major world university rankings Ukrainian universities are nowhere to be found.

Petty bribers of $15 to $40 per positive grade on examination may seem surprisingly cheap to westerners. However, given the average monthly salary of a faculty member around $100 to $200, this helps making ends meet. An associate professor’s salary of $150 a month places Ukraine with Sub-Saharan Africa rather than the European Union, that Ukraine is aspiring to join. The bad news is that the alleged bribe-taker extorted bribes even from top-performing students. To his credit, he had a strong sense of social justice so needier students paid less and wealthier paid more. It is also interesting that this associate professor, who is 31, graduated from Zaporizhzhya National University with highest honors. Working at your alma mater, which is known as a form of academic inbreeding, is a widespread practice in Ukraine. The legacy factor, when students learn to pay bribes and then become professors and collect bribes, can play well in this situation.

Despite the fact that the case was publicized and reposted by many major media outlets, Zaporizhzhya National University does not feature this frustrating news on its news releases web-page. Ignorance is the best weapon that Ukrainian universities use against anti-corruption endeavors, including limiting reports in mass media. Nevertheless, on its front page, Zaporizhzhya National University features a\ anti-corruption button, under which one can find a dozen of references to Ukraine’s anti-corruption laws and other official documents. But the most interesting document, listed next to the Ethics Code of Conduct for university faculty, is Zaporizhzhya National University Anti-corruption Plan for 2016. This comprehensive plan consists of forty-one points, of which the last states the need to develop a plan for 2017. Apparently, it is that hiatus between the expiration of the Anti-corruption Plan for 2016 and the enactment of the Anti-corruption Plan for 2017 that the law professor used to harvest bribes from his students.

What are the likely consequences of the case for the local and national academic community? Hardly any. In Ukraine, academics of all ranks, including university rectors, provosts, deans, department chairs and regular faculty members were all caught accepting bribes on numerous occasions. Remarkably, almost no one ends up in prison. Despite all the terrible punishments prescribed by the prosecutors, most cases end with an initial two-day arrest and a modest fine. Prosecuting a professor of law would be even more challenging. Will this case scare other faculty members in the city from extorting bribes? Highly unlikely. In that same city, the Head of the Department of Management at another top regional higher education institution, Zaporizhzhya National Technical University, was arrested for allegedly extorting a bribe just a few months prior to the January 2017 incident. On May 30, 2016, Professor of Economics and Academician of the Academy of Economic Sciences of Ukraine was arrested for extorting a bribe of $300 from a student in exchange for passing examinations. Nevertheless, this professor continues working at the University, also listed as the Director of Economics and Humanities Institute. Thus, even being arrested does not represent a deterrent for continuing corrupt practices. There is no reputational damage either, for Ukraine’s universities already have a very bad reputation that can hardly get even worse. And yet there is a consequence. Systematic extortion of bribes is a good school for future lawyers, who absorb the culture of corruption from the school bench.  Ukraine lawyers in most instances serve as intermediaries to pass bribes from plaintiffs to judges. Corrupt judges enjoy near complete immunity, granted to them by the law. What is most astonishing is that the ruling political regime still expects, and even demands, the IMF and other major international donors to continue to fund its corruption.



Ararat L. Osipian holds a Ph.D. in Education and Human Development from Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University. He is a Pontica Magna Fellow at New Europe Foundation, Bucharest and spent over three years conducting fieldwork on corruption, hybrid war, and the failed state in Ukraine.


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