It’s morning. You woke up in your cottage in the countryside, made a cup of coffee and went out to the banks of the Desna River to breathe in the fresh air. There is only a forest, a river, peace and silence around you. The road to the capital is ahead, but now you can enjoy nature and relax a little before a hard day’s work.
Soon, the family of Anti-Corruption Court judge Andrii Bitsiuk may move into a country house like this one near the Desna River, just 20 minutes away from Kyiv. His wife, Anna Nadtochyieva, became the owner of the cottage during the full-scale invasion, but she had invested in it before the war.
The journalists stumbled upon this probably undeclared property by accident while researching interesting documents provided by their sources. Among them is an email correspondence that may indicate that the judge shares anti-corruption case files with his lawyer wife, and she helps him write court rulings against high-ranking officials suspected of corruption.
The journalists of Slidstvo.Info examined the documents received from the sources on condition of anonymity and talked to the judge and his wife about the joint writing of court decisions, which seems to be at least a violation of the basic principles of justice. According to the experts, such actions of the judge may lead to his dismissal. The video has English subtitles.
THE JUDGE’S FAMILY AND THEIR WEALTH
Andrii Bitsiuk has been an investigating judge of the High Anti-Corruption Court, or HACC, for more than four years. This newly created body is very important, as it has priority in handling high-level corruption cases. Therefore, its professionalism and impartiality are essential.
Anna Nadtochyieva is the wife of Judge Bitsiuk and a lawyer at Cherezov & Partners association. She also wanted to become a HACC judge, but she was not selected in a fairly rigorous competition. The integrity of the candidates was closely monitored by members of the public. Even then, during the competition, activists had questions to the judge and the lawyer from Mykolaiv.
Kateryna Butko, an expert on judges’ assets and the head of the Automaidan, commented on the property status of each spouse.
“In 2017, Andrii Bitsiuk received a cash gift from his retired mother in the amount of UAH 200,000. In the same year, the judge bought a car — probably, the money from his mother was declared in order to legalise the cost of the car. The real estate includes an apartment and a piece of land in Mykolaiv and Mykolaiv oblast,” the expert said.
According to Butko, Anna Nadtochyieva may have deliberately underreported her income: “In 2017, as the head of the lawyers’ association, she earned a little more than UAH 40,000 a year, which is obviously a rather small amount for such a position.” In addition, according to the declaration, as of 2017, the woman had a lot of property: an apartment and an unfinished 300 square metre house in Mykolaiv, an unfinished apartment in Odesa and a garden house, and several cars.
During the investigation, the journalists visited the couple’s residence in the capital (an apartment that is likely to be a service apartment) and a house in the countryside, which is registered in Nadtochyieva’s name and is not listed in the judge’s declaration, although, according to the woman, it was purchased in 2020.
COURT SESSION TO THE SOUND OF AIR RAID SIRENS
On 28 February 2022, on the fifth day of the full-scale war, Andrii Bitsiuk held a hearing of the High Anti-Corruption Court to the sound of air raid sirens. The judge was considering the case of Oleh Zhuchenko, the former prosecutor of Odesa oblast, who is suspected of having, in collusion with businessman Volodymyr Halanternyk and officials of Odesa City Council, transferred land plots in Odesa to Budova FIG on favourable terms. In return, Zhuchenko received an apartment worth UAH 3.5 million. The corruption case has been under investigation for six years. If Zhuchenko’s guilt is proven, he could face up to 12 years in prison.
In the very first days of the full-scale invasion, former prosecutor Zhuchenko asked the HACC to transfer UAH 2.6 million he had previously paid as bail to the needs of the Armed Forces. Within a few minutes of the hearing, Judge Bitsiuk passed a short, operative part of the ruling, thus satisfying the ex-prosecutor’s request and easing his preventive measure. Now Zhuchenko has only a personal obligation — that is, he has simply handed over his international passports and must appear in court when requested.
THE JUDGE’S WIFE STEPS IN
It seems that Judge Bitsiuk was not fully confident in his decision, so he decided to send the documents in Zhuchenko’s case to his wife.
Slidstvo.Info journalists received a draft of the full version of the ruling, which was created from Andrii Bitsiuk’s account on 2 March 2022. This document contains Bitsiuk’s rather vague wording as to why the ex-prosecutor is allowed to transfer bail to the army and, in return, receive more freedom while under investigation.
Slidstvo.Info received another document, titled “SpravaZhuch”. Its metadata again lists Andrii Bitsiuk as the author, but the edits were made by a person named Anna Nadtochyieva. On the same day, the edited document was sent from the email used by Judge Nadtochyieva’s wife (she used this email when she was a candidate for the HACC) to Bitsiuk’s email (which he used during the competition to the HACC).
Vadym Valko, a lawyer at the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, asked journalists a reasonable question: does the investigating judge have the right to allow other people to edit or write the reasoning parts of decisions?
“Obviously, this should not happen, because one of the guarantees of justice is the independence of a judge. It implies that the judge considers the case alone,” the expert says.
One might assume that the wife helps the judge to put dots and commas in the decision. But this is not the case. The journalists noted an interesting wording that appeared in the final court decision after Nadtochyieva’s amendments: “The defence justifies the request to change the measure of restraint by the introduction of martial law and the possibility for the suspect Zhuchenko O.D. to take part in the defence of the territorial integrity and independence of Ukraine.”
Interestingly, during the HACC’s several-minute meeting at the beginning of the full-scale war, such a right of the suspect was not discussed. Slidstvo.Info decided to check whether the former prosecutor of Odesa oblast really wanted to join the Armed Forces.
In a conversation with journalists, Oleh Zhuchenko said that after the start of the full-scale invasion, he approached the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office with a question about the possibility of transferring UAH 2.6 million in bail for the needs of the Armed Forces.
“But at the time I applied, I was told that, according to the law, there was no such possibility. I am sure that there is always a legal solution for good deeds. And if you are talking about the motion, it was filed with the sole purpose of helping our state,” the former prosecutor of Odesa oblast said.
That is, the suspect himself wanted to help the army with money only, and not to serve. He sent journalists the text of the motion he filed with the HACC in February 2022. Indeed, there was not a single word about Zhuchenko’s intention to defend the state with arms.
But in the official decision, which is public, it is this intention that convinces the judge to relax the preventive measure for the corruption suspect. It turns out that the judge’s wife simply made it up when she edited the document, being a complete stranger to the case.
Among the documents received, Slidstvo.Info found another letter with a draft decision in Zhuchenko’s case. This time, the author of the document with Andrii Bitsiuk’s edits is Nataliia Movchan. A woman with the same name works as an investigating judge at the HACC. This version of the court decision was published in the court register. Judge Movchan refused to talk to journalists and hung up when we called her.
“If it can be proved that he did all these things, used other people’s opinions in the court decision and passed them off as his own, then the High Council of Justice should meet. There may be signs of a significant disciplinary offence, which is grounds for dismissal. I admit that he may be reprimanded and sent to the National School of Judges,” comments Vadym Valko, lawyer at the Anti-Corruption Action Centre.
THE COUPLE DENIES COOPERATION
It was not easy to talk to Judge Bitsiuk — in response to a request for comment from journalists, the HACCU offered us another judge. A long wait outside the court also did not lead to anything — the judge left the workplace through another exit. Then the journalists of Slidstvo.Info visited his home — it seems that he and his wife live in a service apartment on the left bank of Kyiv.
The conversation with the judge turned out to be short — Bitsiuk insisted that no one helps him administer justice.
“She doesn’t help, she doesn’t rule and she doesn’t write. This is not happening,” Bitsiuk said when asked about his wife’s editing of rulings. He also said the same about his alleged colleague, Judge Movchan, whose name also appeared in the process of editing documents.
When speaking to journalists, Anna Nadtochyieva initially insisted that she had never interfered with her husband’s work, but after a few minutes of conversation, she hesitated.
“Then the war broke out, I was in Zakarpattia. He (husband, Judge Bitsiuk — ed.) worked and lived in the court. Perhaps he asked me to correct some text a little bit because he did not have time, but I do not remember any details. Purely theoretically, it could have been that I was given a template and told that something needed to be corrected. Perhaps it was an assistant. He never asks me for anything else. I believe that his knowledge is higher than mine,” says the lawyer.
The documents received and processed by journalists indicate that Nadtochyieva had access to the case files of her husband – and not only in relation to the former prosecutor of Odesa oblast. Slidstvo.Info has learned that Judge Bitsiuk could share with his wife not only the texts of future court decisions, but also confidential information (copies of passports, addresses, banking details, etc.) regarding suspects Andrii Havrylenko and Borys Rodin (they, along with ex-prosecutor Zhuchenko, are involved in the so-called Trukhanov-Halanternyk case — ed.)
In the case of another corruption suspect, Oleh Bryndak, investigating judge Andrii Bitsiuk sent his wife a number of documents — copies of payment orders, statements from people who had posted bail for Bryndak, a motion to change the preventive measure, and more.
The judge denied such actions. “I don’t even take the case out of court,” Bitsiuk said, stressing that he does not allow his wife to get acquainted with the case files.
Vadym Valko, an expert at the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, admits that the judge did commit a violation, though it is difficult to determine whether it was a disciplinary or criminal offence. “It is very difficult to prove direct intent, that the judge really wanted to disclose this data, deliberately sent the documents, acted in his own selfish motives,” the expert said.
NEW HOUSE NEAR KYIV
The question that journalists have been looking for an answer to for a long time is whether this cooperation, which, so to speak, goes a little beyond the boundaries of judicial ethics, has resulted in anything tangible. Slidstvo. Info did not find an answer, but in its search, it came across a newly built cottage in Rozhny near Kyiv, which Anna Nadtochyieva became the owner of in the summer of 2022.
The realtor of the cottage town where the Bitsiuk-Nadtochyieva couple bought the property showed Slidstvo.Info this house. She also added that the house is 167 square metres and cost $110,000 at the time of purchase.
Anna Nadtochyieva confirmed that she had recently become the owner of the house in Rozhny and said: “We spent the joint funds of us as a couple, each of us. We bought it in 2020, I think we signed a contract for its construction. We have been paying for it for two years. I sold the real estate I had in Mykolaiv – a dacha, an unfinished house, and also sold an apartment in Odesa.”
According to the judge’s wife, the couple bought this house before the full-scale war, in 2020. However, it is not listed in Judge Bitsiuk’s 2020 declaration, although it should have been.
It is unclear whether the assistance of the judge’s wife in the cases he hears and decides on has any bonuses for the spouses. Or maybe Andrii Bitsiuk sends Anna Nadtochyieva case files along with confidential data of the defendants because she knows better which rulings are fair and how to justify them.
The answers to these questions have to be found by the relevant authorities, who should be interested in the findings of the Slidstvo.Info journalists. It is clear that the basic principles of justice have been violated in this case.