Investigator might be brought to criminal liability for spreading false information
Subject of complaint: Senior investigator for Financial Investigations at the Mariupol Unified State Tax Inspectorate of the Donetsk Oblast SFS
Complaint in brief: In August 2017, a leading Ukrainian grain trader that had been exporting to many countries for ten years appealed to the BOC. The company complained that a senior investigator had been spreading false information about the fictitiousness of the company’s activities.
At the beginning of 2017, the Complainant’s lawyer accidentally found out that their counterparty’s property had been seized as part of a criminal case. When justifying the seizure of property, the senior investigator claimed that the Complainant was a “fictitious company.” She also communicated with other counterparties, demanding that they provide information and documents. Even in official correspondence, the investigator referred to the Complainant’s business as fictitious.
The Complainant did not agree with this and appealed to the Commercial Court of Donetsk Oblast. The court confirmed that the information about the company’s fictitiousness was false and obliged the Mariupol Tax Inspectorate to refute it.
The spreading of this false information by public officials harmed the company’s business reputation. Some counterparties even broke their business relationship, which affected the company’s financial position.
Actions taken: The Council’s position was based on a fundamental constitutional principle of presumption of innocence of an individual. In the Council’s view, the term “fictitious company” could not be used without a court ruling to that effect. The Council’s investigator addressed the Prosecutor General’s Office and the SFS Director in writing, asking them to check the investigator’s actions in disseminating false information about the trader. Moreover, he called for the agencies to raise awareness of the need to adhere to the principle of presumption of innocence.
Result achieved: The PGO and the SFS accepted the Council’s recommendations. They conducted an internal investigation of the senior investigator’s actionsWith the assistance of the BOC, the Complainant also initiated a pre-trial investigation into possible criminal charges against the official.
Pursuant to BOC recommendations, the SFS raised awareness among financial investigation personnel. The SFS persuaded its staff to follow the principle of presumption of innocence and providing proof of guilt. The case was closed successfully.