February began in Ukraine with many searches of politicians, civil servants, and oligarchs. Some were fired, and others are now suspected of corruption. What is the goal of the leadership in Kyiv?
The Ukrainian law enforcement authorities have noticeably intensified their anti-corruption activities. At the beginning of February, there were sensational searches and dismissals.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) reports that it searched the house of the Ukrainian oligarch Ihor Kolomoiskyj in connection with the embezzlement of 40 billion hryvnias (about 980 million euros today) by the former management of the largest Ukrainian oil and gas producer Ukrnafta and the pipeline operator Ukrtransnafta. Kolomoiskyj held shares in the two semi-state companies, which were nationalized under martial law last November.
In addition, the State Bureau of Investigation (DBR) reported that a former energy and coal industry minister was under suspicion. He is accused of concluding contracts in favor of companies connected to the oligarch Dmytro Firtash, who has been living in Austria for years. As a result, the state is said to have incurred losses of 1.5 billion hryvnias (today around 35 million euros). According to Ukrainian media, it is said to be Ihor Nasalyk.
In addition, the SBU and DBR conducted searches at former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. As he himself reported, the measure was carried out in connection with investigations into the cause of the helicopter crash in Brovary near Kyiv, in which the Interior Ministry leadership was killed in mid-January. The investigators were primarily interested in the contracts for the purchase of Airbus H225 helicopters by the Ministry of the Interior.
According to reports, there were also searches of representatives of Kyiv construction companies, who are controlled by a member of the Ukrainian parliament from the now-banned pro-Russian party “Opposition Platform – For Life”. At the same time, the DBR carried out searches at the head of the capital’s tax office. Officials said they had uncovered millions of dollars in fraud there.
Defense Ministry, customs, and other authorities in sight
Searches were also carried out on former Defense Ministry officials. The Attorney General’s Office also announced that a department head of the ministry is suspected of embezzling particularly large amounts of money and forgery.
A former deputy secretary of defense is also under suspicion. He is said to have hindered the work of the Ukrainian armed forces and other military units in a particularly difficult time. According to the investigation, the suspect allegedly lobbied for contracts to supply the military with food at inflated prices and to purchase bulletproof vests, helmets, clothing, and other low-quality items.
While investigators conducted searches, the government dismissed almost all of the Ukrainian Customs leadership and a number of other agencies. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said in a speech that he was satisfied with the investigators’ work. “Unfortunately, in some areas, the only way to guarantee legitimacy is to change leadership at the same time as institutional changes are being implemented,” the head of state stressed.
Real Attack on Corruption?
Volodymyr Fesenko, political scientist and head of the “Penta” center for political research, believes that the presidential office is killing two birds with one stone with its demonstrative fight against corruption.
“It was a large-scale demonstration of the fight against corruption. It was no accident in the run-up to the Ukraine-EU summit on February 3 in Kyiv. Visible results in the fight against corruption are one of the criteria for evaluating Ukraine’s European integration,” says Fesenko. He believes that with these measures, the President is also responding to the widespread public desire for corrupt top officials to be punished.
Who conducted the searches?
Fesenko advises looking closely at which structures carried out the searches: the Security Service of Ukraine, the State Investigative Bureau, and the Bureau of Economic Security, which is under the supervision of the Prosecutor General’s Office. “These are the structures that actively work with the President’s Office, although the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAP), which are more independent, should be active in matters of corruption,” he said Expert.
The head of the anti-corruption organization Statewatch, Oleksandr Lemenov, also believes that the searches should demonstrate that corruption is being fought in Ukraine. However, these are not really cases that would ultimately lead to convictions.
Mykola Havronyuk from Ukraine’s Center for Political and Legal Reform believes that when searches are carried out and people are suspected, it’s a good sign. “In order to be able to investigate effectively, investigators have to collect evidence of illegal activities for a long time and document everything. It is impossible to order all this for a specific day, for example in the run-up to a summit meeting,” emphasizes the anti-corruption policy expert.
With Ukraine’s survival in the war with Russia now at stake, Havronyuk believes it would be an unwise and dangerous move for the country’s political leadership to undermine the trust of international partners with a sham fight against corruption. The expert hopes that President Volodymyr Zelensky will not risk something like that in the first place.
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