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Ukrainian Investigative Director Who Clashed With Activists Approved As Prosecutor-General

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Ukraine's new prosecutor-general, Iryna Venedyktova (file photo)

KYIV -- Lawmakers have approved Iryna Venedyktova, a top investigative official who has clashed with reporters and civil society activists, as Ukraine’s new prosecutor-general.

The March 17 vote by the Verkhovna Rada was the latest in a series of top-level government personnel changes by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Some of Zelenskiy's moves have worried civil-society activists, who fear he is backsliding on reforms and reverting to policies that have hobbled Ukraine for years.

Venedyktova, 41, is the first woman to head Ukraine’s top prosecutorial office.

She's currently the acting director of the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR), a corruption-fighting agency that lawmakers voted to revamp in December after the bureau's then-director was forced out amid questions of conflict of interest.

Earlier this month, Venedyktova sued the newspaper Ukrayinska pravda for republishing an article by the Anti-Corruption Action Center, that alleged her husband was influencing personnel policy at the DBR.

Venedyktova also sued the action center, a nongovernmental organization that has been at the heart of efforts to root out the country's notorious graft problem.

As prosecutor-general, Venedyktova replaces Ruslan Ryaboshapka, who was nominated to the position by Zelenskiy.

Ryaboshapka was well-regarded by anti-corruption activists for his efforts to streamline and professionalize the scandal-ridden prosecutor-general’s office. He was forced out in a no-confidence vote on March 5.

Venedyktova reportedly clashed with Ryaboshapka over an investigation the DBR was conducting into Zelenskiy’s predecessor, Petro Poroshenko.

Olena Halushka, director of international relations with the Anti-Corruption Action Center, said Venedyktova's new position raised doubts about the reform efforts that Ryaboshapka had undertaken.

Halushka said Venedyktova did not have a background in criminal law, and had made several controversial appointments during her brief tenure as head of the DBR.

"Given her background and previous activities, as well as the context in which Ryaboshapka was dismissed and she [was] appointed, there are doubts she will be an independent and efficient prosecutor-general,” she told RFE/RL.

Zelenskiy's shake-up of the government, which included firing his prime minister, worried not only civil society activists, but also Western financial backers.

Kyiv has been negotiating a long-delayed $5.5 billion loan program with the International Monetary Fund, which is seen as crucial to economic stability and investor confidence.

Public trust in Zelenskiy has slid sharply since his landslide election in April 2019. His trust ratings dropped to around 50 percent last month from 80 percent in September, according to the Kyiv-based Razumkov Center.

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