Washington, 26 February 1999 (RFE/RL) -- When U.S. Vice President Al Gore opened his global conference on fighting corruption among government officials this week in Washington, he emphasized that every nation must work with every other nation to fight corruption wherever it is in the world.
That challenge was thrown back at American officials on Thursday by the head of Ukraine's Presidential Commission on fighting corruption, Vasyl Durdynets.
Durdynets, who is also Director of Ukraine's National Bureau of Investigation, said that as part of Kyiv's campaign of "rooting out" highly placed corrupt officials, it had charged former prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko, but that he had fled before he could be arrested.
Lazarenko is now in custody in the U.S. where he has asked for political asylum. Ukraine, however, has demanded that he be extradited immediately to face charges of official corruption.
Gore wasn't in the conference session when he spoke, but Durdynets took the opportunity to raise the Lazarenko case as a prime example of global cooperation:
Durdynets said the people of Ukraine are following with great interest the extradition requests against Lazarenko and his accomplices. This case will become a test of the efficacy of international cooperation in the war on corruption, he said, especially since there are more investigations under way in Ukraine of highly placed officials and parliamentary deputies.
Like a number of other top officials at the conference, Durdynets said there is a real need for deepening and expanding cooperation among nations. Durdynets underscored how very important it is to have international engagement on blocking the ability of criminals to launder illegal funds through offshore accounts, by opening accounts in foreign banks and by fleeing prosecution by traveling abroad. A criminal must be made to feel that there is no safe haven for him in the international arena, said Durdynets. This is not theory, it is practical reality.
The Ukrainian official said his country has only taken its first steps down the road to successfully attacking official corruption, but that it is moving in the right direction. He noted that between 1995 and 1998, the number of bribery cases discovered increased by 32 percent and the number of criminal cases rose by 25 percent.
He also noted that in the past three years, 20,000 workers from the Ministry of Internal Affairs alone were dismissed for violating ethical standards or laws. At the same time, Ukraine is implementing measures to reduce the possibility of corruption among police and other law enforcement personnel, he said, including such things as a system of rotation for the highest levels of law enforcement.
U.S. Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder told the conference that corruption in judicial and law enforcement systems threatens the ability of the global community to respond to the growing threat of international crime.
Holder said with the growth of international drug trafficking, computer crime and terrorism, it is more essential than ever for law enforcement agencies around the world to share information and work together. But where there is a perception that law enforcement or judicial officials in a country are corrupt and untrustworthy, there can be no effective international cooperation.