To start up a reboot at the embattled State Bureau of Investigations, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky dismissed its director Roman Truba on Dec. 27.
In his next decree, Zelensky appointed Iryna Venediktova, a loyalist lawmaker from his Servant of the People party, as “temporary” acting director of the Bureau.
The law on “improvement” at the State Bureau of Investigations (DBR), a law enforcement agency focused on high level wrongdoing, had already terminated Truba’s authority when it came into force on Dec. 26 and Zelensky’s decrees made the director’s replacement official.
Initiated by the president and passed by parliament on Dec. 3, the law has over 300 amendments that bring sweeping changes to the agency that has been marred by scandal in the past year.
Most importantly, one amendment ensures the continuity of investigations into the killings of EuroMaidan protesters in 2014 by allowing the investigators who worked on these cases within the General Prosecutor’s Office to continue their work within DBR without mandatory competitions.
The new law also gives more authority to the director of the DBR, who previously shared powers with two deputies. The new director will be responsible for appointing deputies and defining their responsibilities.
At the same time, the law strengthens parliamentary oversight over the DBR: following yearly reports by the DBR director, parliament may find the body’s work unsatisfactory, which may serve as grounds for dismissal of its director. The president appoints the new director on the proposal of the DBR’s competition commission.
Venediktova, who the president appointed as the “temporary” director of the DBR, is a lawmaker with the Servant of the People, the party with a parliamentary majority that Zelensky created. She is also the head of the parliament committee on legal policy and justice.
The new law also changes the legal status of DBR from a central executive body to a state law enforcement one, so the DBR is now defined as a state law enforcement agency tasked with preventing, detecting, stopping, solving and investigating crimes within its competence.
Truba was appointed as the DBR director by former president Petro Poroshenko in November 2017. Since then, civil society activists have accused Truba of being too close to Andriy Portnov, former deputy head of the runaway president Viktor Yanukovych’s Presidential Administration.
Portnov allegedly pressured Truba and his agency to investigate several allegations against Poroshenko this year, as well as individuals linked to banking reform, including former NBU governor Valeria Gonatreva. Critics of these investigations have called them politically motivated.
Additionally, Truba’s close associate Ihor Shcherbyna has been under investigation by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau for allegedly extorting a $150,000 bribe for closing a case filed in the DBR. Truba served as Shcherbyna’s deputy in 2014-15 when Shcherbyna was the head of the Investigative Department of the Prosecutor General’s Office.
Prior to parliament voting on the DBR reform, a Telegram messenger channel Trubu Prorvalo released incriminating audio recordings allegedly tapped in Truba’s office. These included Truba’s alleged conversations with his subordinates and other officials about the dismissal of several high-profile cases. Truba has called these recordings fake.