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Ukraine jails rogue judge who hid bribes in pickle jars

Ukraine jails rogue judge who hid bribes in pickle jars

by host

KYIV — A Ukrainian judge who stashed some $150,000 of bribes in pickle jars and went on the run to Moldova before being “kidnapped” and hauled back home was locked up on Wednesday for a decade.

Mykola Chaus, a former judge of the Dnipro District Court of Kyiv, was sentenced to 10 years in prison for bribery and his assets were confiscated, the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine reported Wednesday.

Chaus received $150,000 unlawfully and now also faces a three-year ban from working as a judge, the Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine said in a statement. Even though Chaus still has 30 days to file an appeal, watchdogs celebrated the sentence as a victory for Ukraine’s anti-corruption system.

“This verdict proved: even if you are a ‘judge on call’ from the president himself, Ukrainian anti-corruption organs will catch up with you sooner or later,” Vitaly Shabunin, chairman of the board of the Kyiv-based Anti-Corruption Action Center, said in a Facebook post.

In a pickle

Former judge Chaus — who ruled in several political proceedings in favor of former President Petro Poroshenko’s allies — earned a notorious reputation after he was busted in 2016 hiding his bumper bribe stash in pickle jars in his wife’s garden and his own car.

Chaus initially denied the allegations and said he borrowed the hidden money to build a new house.

But investigators said Chaus demanded a bribe from a married couple to deliver a milder sentence on the wife’s mother, who was charged with illegal trade in powerful medical substances.

Chaus pled not guilty and claimed that the couple pushed him to take the bribe. Later he said the case against him was politically motivated.

Even though the Ukrainian parliament permitted his arrest in 2016, Chaus used judicial immunity and left the country to find shelter in Moldova.

Moldova ‘kidnapping’

Though Ukraine had requested Chaus’ extradition from Moldova in 2017, it took four years before he was finally hunted down, after moving between different apartments in the neighboring country.

But in a shocking twist, unknown kidnappers got to Chaus first in April 2021, according to his lawyer in Moldova, who said “a Ukrainian judge was snatched by a group of armed men and taken into an unknown direction.”

Ukrainian officials finally caught up with him months later in July 2021, when he arrived at a local village council in the Vinnytsia region of western Ukraine wearing nothing but shorts, claiming he’d escaped from his kidnappers and wanting to call the SBU, Ukraine’s security service.

Moldovan authorities did suspect Ukrainian special services in the initial snatching. But Kyiv denied that, claiming it wanted to bring in the fugitive judge legally.

Moldovan police even opened a criminal investigation into Chaus’ “kidnapping,” claiming Ukrainian citizens were behind it. Chaus — who did not name his kidnappers — was missing for more than two months.

“His location was unknown until July 2021, when the official was discovered in one of the villages of the Vinnytsia region [western Ukraine]. On July 30, SBU employees went to the scene and transported the ex-judge to the central office of the Security Service,” the anti-corruption prosecutor’s office said.

Netflix thriller

Ukrainian journalist Yuriy Butusov, chief editor of the Censor.net website, published a photo of the judge in his shorts, and said SBU officials came and put him in a detention center.

Anti-corruption cops then tried to take him from security service officials, which almost led to a clash between the law enforcement branches. SBU said it also needed Chaus for questioning as it was investigating his “kidnapping.”

“The Security Service did not kidnap Judge Chaus, but acted according to the Ukrainian law,” the SBU added, saying it couldn’t release any details about the ex-judge’s whereabouts at the time due to security risks.

In August 2021, anti-corruption police finally got hold of Chaus, after he was found in Feofania hospital in Kyiv. Soon after the court put him under house arrest and the trial started.

Now he’s off to prison for a 10-year stretch.

“Waiting until Netflix buys the rights for this thriller,” added Shabunin, from the Kyiv corruption watchdog.

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