Recent Developments Highlight Danger for Anticorruption Activists

Two recent developments involving violence to anticorruption activists demonstrate yet again the high degree of danger that anticorruption activists can face in countries with high bribery and corruption risks.  First, on February 13, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFERL) reported that on the evening of February 11, Dmitry Gribov, a Russian anticorruption activist, was beaten by men wearing masks and wielding baseball bats, and died hours later.  On the day of the attack, Gribov, who led a branch of the Center for Action Against Corruption in the Moscow region, reportedly had attended a local court hearing involving a previous attack on him.  According to one of Gribov’s colleagues, four years earlier unidentified assailants had attacked Gribov and burned his car.  The colleague also stated that he “consider[ed] the crime to be connected to Gribov’s public and anticorruption activities.”

Second, on February 15, RFERL reported that Ukrainian authorities arrested Vladyslav Manher, head of the Kherson regional council in Ukraine, for his alleged role in organizing the killing of Ukrainian anticorruption activist Kateryna Handzyuk.  In July 2018, Handzyuk, an anticorruption activist and advisor to the Mayor of Kherson, suffered burns over 30 percent of her body when an unnamed attacker or attackers splashed a liter of sulfuric acid on her head.  Over the next three months, Handzyuk was hospitalized for 11 surgeries and numerous skin grafts, but died on November 4 from complications from her wounds.

Manher, who was charged with organizing a contract murder with “special cruelty,” was ordered by a district court in Kyiv to be held in pretrial detention until March 3 or pay the equivalent of $91,000 bail.  According to RFEFL, Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko posted a document on Facebook indicating that Manher “felt ‘personal enmity’ toward Handzyuk because of her efforts to expose ‘illegal deforestation’ in the region.”  Lutsenko also said that the investigation of her attack found that attackers has received at least $4,000 for the attack.

Handzyuk reportedly had been working to report on the recent increase in the number of assaults on anticorruption activists in her country.  Rights activists stated that in 2018, at least 50 activists had been attacked in Ukraine, most of them related to conflicts with corrupt officials.  In a video interview from her hospital bed, Handzyuk herself referred to more than 40 activists who had been attacked, but for whom no one who ordered the attacks had been identified.

Note: Anti-bribery and corruption (ABC) compliance officers who oversee their companies’ and agencies’ risk-assessment processes should ensure that reports such as these are factored into their companies’ and agencies’ ABC risk-assessment processes, along with internal data and external top-down statistical data from the Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI) and the TRACE Bribery Risk Matrix.  It is not enough simply to note that, for example, the most recent CPI ranked Russia 138th, or Ukraine 120th, of 180 countries.  The extent to which a country’s public officials not only perpetuate widespread corruption, but direct, sanction, or turn a blind eye to physical assaults on anticorruption advocates in civil society should be a critical indicator of bribery and corruption risks associated with doing business in that country.

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