The Ukrainian Justice Ministry is offering gift certificates for “luxury cells” in the country’s dire remand centres.
The certificate is only valid for six months, and the remand centre gets to keep the money if the suspect is not taken into custody during that time.
Justice Minister Denys Malyuska promoted the service as a potential birthday present for officials and politicians.
He joked that it was “client-oriented”, because it included three meals a day, 24-hour security, and reduced chances of contracting Covid-19.
Noting that potential guests of the state can choose from cells around the country, he illustrated his Facebook post with the hashtag “Travel Ukraine”.
Mr Malyuska stressed that the upgrade only applies to pre-trial detention facilities – in other words, only to people awaiting sentencing and presumed to be innocent.
“As for criminals”, he said, “all prisoners will be on equal terms and serve their sentences for the crime committed”.
Pay cells in remand centres, or “VIP cells” as media calls them, were introduced in May as part of a sweeping prison reform.
Mr Malyuska said the initiative was meant to fight corruption, because the money would go directly to a special fund and be used to improve conditions in regular cells.
The service is now available in over a dozen Ukrainian cities.
‘Innovative reformer’ or ‘Mr Troll’
Social media was awash with both praise and criticism for the idea.
There were sly suggestions that government officials and MPs should be among the first to get the certificates.
“If Mr Troll, the minister of justice, talks about gift certificates for comfortable conditions in remand centres and that’s ok, then I get the impression that we have all lost our minds,” opposition MP Iryna Friz said.
Former MP Boryslav Bereza said that Mr Malyuska had turned Ukraine “into a laughing stock” in the eyes of the world.
There were also concerns that the service discriminated against lower-income inmates.
“It’s convenient: first an official steals; then he uses the stolen money to buy a VIP cell, and serves out his term there in decent conditions,” businessman Yevhen Chernyak noted.
Some on social media asked the minister whether he would like to receive such a certificate himself, to which he replied he would do so “gladly“, but would have to hand it over to the ministry by law.
Reporting by Margaryta Maliukova