KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s prosecutor general was axed in a parliamentary vote on Thursday night, the latest casualty in a sweeping reshuffle by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy that has raised questions about the country’s reform momentum.
The United States and the European Union had given public backing to prosecutor general Ruslan Ryaboshapka for his efforts to root out corruption and shed corrupt or under-qualified officials by making them reapply for their jobs through an exam.
Ryaboshapka was also in the spotlight last year as the man to decide whether to launch an investigation into former U.S. vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter, in what became a key issue in the impeachment trial of President Donald Trump.
But lawmakers in parliament, where Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party commands an unprecedented majority, voted to remove him in a no-confidence motion hours after the president criticised him for not producing results.
The vote came a day after Zelenskiy jettisoned most of his cabinet, including the prime minister.
The reshuffle dragged down bonds on Thursday, sparked by worries about the pace of reforms and Ukraine’s ability to seal an International Monetary Fund deal that is seen as key to investor confidence.
“My personal opinion is very simple: if there are no results - the person should not remain in their job,” Zelenskiy was quoted by Interfax Ukraine as saying before the vote.
Lawmakers from various parties criticised Ryaboshapka for not prosecuting cases pro-actively enough, including against the circle of previous President Petro Poroshenko.
One opposition lawmaker said removing Ryaboshapka would pave the way for an independent investigation into Burisma, the energy company where Hunter Biden used to be a board member.
Zelenskiy was elected by a landslide last year but his ratings have sagged in part because of a perception that his government was not doing enough to tackle high-level corruption.
Ryaboshapka said lawmakers got rid of him because he had pushed genuine reform for the first time since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, in a way that threatened their interests.
“For 28 years, the Prosecutor General’s Office was an instrument of pressure and political repression,” he said.
“For 28 years, the prosecutor’s office was a source of personal enrichment for the elite and, as a result, the oligarchs in prosecutors’ uniforms.”
Zelenskiy’s party has suggested one of their lawmakers, Serhii Ionushas, as Ryaboshapka’s replacement. The president was a comic actor before entering politics, and Ionushas was a lawyer whose company did work for Zelenskiy’s production studio.
Following Ryaboshapka’s exit, Artem Sytnyk, the head of the Western-backed National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine, could be next in the firing line.
Morgan Stanley’s Alina Slyusarchuk and Simon Waever on Thursday flagged the “increased risks to reform momentum, IMF cooperation and the fiscal balance,” from the reshuffle.
“...the pressure on the Prosecutor General Ryaboshapka and the Head of the NABU Sytnyk might be interpreted as a step back for the anti-corruption efforts,” they wrote in a note to clients, downgrading their stance on the country’s hard-currency debt to “dislike”.
Additional reporting by Karin Strohecker in London; Editing by Mark Heinrich