At a pre-trial hearing this morning in Kyiv, the legal team representing former Naftogaz CEO Andriy Kobolyev presented a pair of witness depositions that appear to significantly undermine the allegations being made by Ukraine’s Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO).
Even in the midst of resisting Russia’s invasion, the case has grabbed the attention of the Ukrainian public and raised questions at home and abroad about the legitimacy of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s anti-corruption drive.
Kobolyev stands accused of lobbying for a bonus that, the indictment alleges, exceeded a regulation limiting extra compensation for state employees to approximately $1 million. The bonus was awarded following a 2018 arbitration settlement in which Naftogaz recovered $4.6 billion from Russian gas giant Gazprom. After the court victory, the Naftogaz supervisory board voted to award 1% of the sum to approximately 40 top employees as an incentive for future performance.
Kobolyev, who is currently wearing an ankle bracelet, faces up to 12 years in prison if it can be proven that he deliberately misled the supervisory board while it was still deliberating the payouts.
However, according to the depositions of former supervisory board members Claire Spottiswood and Bruno Lescoeur, both the idea to award the bonuses and the amounts to be paid did not involve Kobolyev’s personal input.
“The Nomination and Remuneration Committee (“Remco”) initially proposed and subsequently the Supervisory Board (“SB”) decided to set the total bonus at 1%,” Lescoeur was quoted as saying in the documents presented to the court. “First, Remco proposed, and then the SB decided to pay Mr. Kobolyev a bonus of USD 10,000,000.”
Spottiswood’s recollection of the events in question is similar to that of Lescoeur. She noted that, rather than influencing the board’s decision, Kobolyev “was asked to leave the room when his own personal bonus and when the overall total bonus were discussed.”
The charges against Kobolyev also allege that he concealed from the supervisory board the existence of the regulation limiting state officials’ compensation. However, the supervisory board members’ testimony asserts that they were aware of the regulation limiting compensation for government officials. As opposed to being misled, the board members said they sought legal counsel before approving the bonuses awarded to Kobolyev and others.
“An independent lawyer from Kinsteller law firm attended all supervisory board and committees meetings to advise them on the legality of their decisions,” Lescoeur’s deposition says.
When asked whether he was aware of the specific regulation, he answered: “We were fully aware of Resolution 859. We believed that this resolution was not relevant to JSC Naftogaz and acted in accordance with the company’s charter.”
Spottiswood’s deposition confirms that “the Remco and the SB had all the necessary authority to decide on any level of bonus we deemed appropriate. We also had advice on the proper processes for pre-approval and had the green light that everything was in order.”
When asked whether she was aware of the specific regulation, she answered: “Yes we were and we discussed it both during the relevant SB and Remco [meetings], and before.”
Kobolyev’s defense team expressed concern at the fact that the detectives and prosecutors, who have been pursuing the case against Kobolyev for five years, had not proven able to conduct similar interviews of figures relevant to the matter.
“It took us only two weeks to collect evidence proving that the supervisory board independently initiated the idea, took the decision, determined the size of the bonuses, and paid them out,” Oleksiy Nosov, a partner in the Miller Law Firm, told Newsweek following the hearing. “Andriy Kobolyev did not take part in this process, and this fact completely levels the accusations being made against him.”
The judge in the case granted the prosecution until Monday to formulate its response. SAPO officials could not be reached for comment.