Ukraine: kyiv Steps Up Fight Against Corruption Coinciding With EU Summit | International

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Ukraine wants to show that it takes seriously the demands of the European Union to solve one of its endemic problems, corruption. On Wednesday, ahead of the EU summit in kyiv, the Attorney General's Office carried out a new series of large-scale raids involving various state entities, the result of numerous investigations into alleged cases of corruption, embezzlement and tax fraud in the upper echelons of power. “I am calm to see that their anti-corruption services are on alert and are effective in detecting cases of corruption,” the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said Thursday from the Ukrainian capital.

The General Prosecutor's Office searched the homes and offices of businessmen and senior officials allegedly involved in various illegal plots. The most serious, due to the economic amount that could have been defrauded – the equivalent of 1,000 million euros – is in the Ukrtatnafta oil company, of which the State is its largest shareholder. The Prosecutor's Office opened proceedings against its board of directors. Linked to this case, the secret services (SSU) searched the house of Igor Kolomoiski, its former owner. Kolomoiski is an oligarch originally from Dnipro, one of the richest men in Ukraine, known for having been the main support of the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelenski, in his career as a television producer and actor and, above all, in his political career.

The General Prosecutor's Office reported that it was also opening proceedings against three high-ranking officials from the Ministry of Defense: Bogdan Kmelnitskyi, former deputy director of supplies; Volodímir Tereschenko, deputy director of international contracts; and Viacheslav Shapovalov, former deputy minister. They are being investigated for alleged fraud for the acquisition of lower quality equipment for the troops than what is established in the contracts.

Shapovalov resigned last week after the Anti-Fraud Office agreed to investigate suspicions that he had approved contracts to award a shell company a contract worth 360 million euros to supply food to the military at well above market price. The contract was leaked to the media ZN. At first, Defense Minister Oleksi Reznikov accused the journalists of manipulating what was a technical error and threatened action by the secret services.

Other decisions by the Attorney General's Office on Wednesday also included the prosecution of a senior Odesa official for allegedly receiving a $40,000 bribe in a land requalification fraud case. Former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov was also formally informed that he is being investigated for possible irregularities in the purchase of Airbus helicopters in 2018. Avakov, for his part, assured the newspaper Pravda that a possible technical error was being investigated in the helicopter that crashed last January on the outskirts of kyiv, causing the death of the leadership of the Ministry of the Interior. In addition, the SSU also acted against some charges from the kyiv tax agency and led a raid against a pimping ring in which the deputy head of the National Police Migration Department is accused as the ringleader.

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All this is in addition to the ten reliefs of senior positions that were approved last week in a series of investigations, initiated by various media outlets, which were taken over by the Anti-Corruption Office. In addition to Shapovalov, he was also accused of a possible case of favor peddling which was the number two from Zelensky's office, Kirilo Timoshenko. The president announced on Wednesday that he had also dismissed, within the framework of anti-corruption investigations, the entire leadership of the State Customs Service. Damilo Hermantsev, a deputy from Zelensky's party, Servant of the People, and head of the parliamentary committee on finance, taxes and tariffs, assured this Thursday in an interview with the Ukrainian News Agency that the irregularities in the border customs service “ they have only gotten worse during the war.” Also this Thursday, a senior official of the tax department of the Yitómir region was arrested accused of receiving a bribe of 200,000 grivnas (about 5,000 euros).

Renewal in the Prosecutor's Office

One of the most repeated criticisms against the Ukrainian president, Volodimir Zelenski, had been that, after more than two years in office -which he assumed in 2019-, he had not fulfilled the commitment to renew the Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office according to the standards of independence that had promised. Last July, in the midst of the Russian invasion, Zelenski appointed Andrii Kostin as the new Attorney General, and Oleksandr Klimenko for anti-corruption. Kostin had already been Zelensky's candidate for the post in 2021, but had received opposition from organizations outside the government, who considered that he had been opaque in declaring his assets and that he was too close to Zelensky.

One of the entities that before the war had expressed its doubts about Kostin, according to what the newspaper recalled Kyiv Independent, was the corruption monitoring organization Transparency International. In it ranking In the annual perception of corruption published by this organization for 2022, Ukraine ranked 116 out of 180 countries; an improvement of six places compared to 2021. In a statement on his social networks, Kostin stated that "there is no return to the past": "Ukraine follows the path towards Europe and will not deviate from it."

The anti-corruption operations, accompanied by great media coverage despite the fact that the focus of interest is the war, coincide with the landing of European commissioners for the summit this Friday. "Could we have an EU-Ukraine summit every week?" Mattia Nelles, a German political scientist expert in political reforms in Ukraine, wrote ironically on his social networks, referring to the moment chosen for actions against possible irregularities in the Ukrainian power.

The EU accepted Ukraine last June as a candidate country to become a member of the Union. The report from the European Commission to approve the candidacy included seven recommendations. Three of them referred to corruption and asked the country to: strengthen its fight, "particularly at the highest level"; comply with international legislation standards to prevent money laundering; and limit the power of the oligarchs.

Demands to improve kyiv's corruption control systems respond not only to its future as a potential EU member state, but also to the interest of its international allies in monitoring the money they are transferring to the state during the war. This January, before the Rada - the Ukrainian parliament -, the President of the European Council, Charles Michel, summarized the amount of aid that Ukraine has received from the EU budget: 50,000 million, of which 18,000 million have gone directly to the State budget for 2023. In addition, the EU has provided €1.1 billion in military support. These numbers are only the community ones, since each country has also contributed its own help.

The United States has also introduced its own mechanisms to supervise the spending of more than 50,000 million dollars in direct aid, both humanitarian and financial and military, which it had guaranteed until the end of 2022 to Ukraine.

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