Ukraine has launched a major crackdown on corruption ahead of a summit with the European Union (EU) in Kyiv this week.
Under the anti-corruption drive, Ukraine is investigating current and former top officials in the defence and energy ministries as well as the tax office, reported The Washington Post.
On Wednesday (1 February), the Ukrainian authorities also raided the house of an influential billionaire, Ihor Kolomoisky. Former interior minister Arsen Avakov’s home was also searched.
The raids come as President Volodymyr Zelenskyy announced his government was “preparing new reforms” that will make the country “more human, transparent and effective”, reported BBC.
Let’s take a closer look at the recent anti-graft raids and Ukraine’s long fight against corruption.
Ukraine’s anti-corruption purge
Ukrainian authorities recovered a large amount of cash, luxury watches and cars during the raid carried out tax chief’s residence, reported CNN.
Several purported photographs of Kolomoiskiy, one of the country’s richest men, looking on as his home in the south-eastern city of Dnipro was searched were published. Reuters reported citing media outlets that the probe was into possible financial crimes.
The business magnate served as the governor of the wider Dnipropetrovsk region in 2014 and had backed Zelenskyy’s bid for the presidency in 2019.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) has accused the “former management” of oil producer Ukrnafta and oil refining company Ukrtatnafta of “misappropriation” of $1.1 billion. Notably, Kolomoiskiy used to partly own these two biggest oil firms in Ukraine, as per Reuters.
Former Ukrainian minister Avakov told the media that his home was searched in connection with a probe into the January 18 helicopter crash that left 14 people dead.
Avakov was the interior minister in 2018 when ‘Super Puma’ ES-225 helicopter – which was involved in the crash – was purchased from France.
Avakov claimed nothing was found during the searches and all contracts were approved at the time of the deal, reported BBC.
David Arakhamia, a member of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, informed the leaders of the customs service have been sacked.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” Arakhamia wrote on Telegram, as per Reuters.
Last week, 15 Ukrainian officials were dismissed or had to resign amid allegations of corruption.
This included Ukraine’s deputy minister of infrastructure, Vasyl Lozinskyi, who was removed from his post after he was accused by prosecutors of inflating the price of winter equipment and “siphoning off $4,00,000”, as per The Guardian. He has been arrested.
Another official who was let go was Vyacheslav Shapovalov – the deputy minister of defence – who was responsible for overseeing supplies and food for Ukrainian troops. It was under him that the alleged inflated food contracts were signed, a charge he has denied.
The other high-profile exit was of Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration. Reports claimed that he had “improperly” used an SUV donated for humanitarian missions.
Oleksiy Symonenko, the deputy prosecutor general of Ukraine, was also removed. Last December, he went to Spain for a 10–day holiday in a Mercedes owned by a prominent Ukrainian businessman, reported The Guardian.
In January, Zelenskyy banned all government officials from leaving the country other than for official business.
Ukraine’s long battle with corruption
Widespread systemic corruption is steeped in Ukraine long before Russia’s invasion last February.
Since Ukraine declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has continued to combat corruption, “free itself from the influence of Russian oligarchs and establish a democratic political system”, noted Time.
A 2016 report by the watchdog group Transparency International found that between 38 per cent to 42 per cent of Ukrainian households said they paid bribes to access basic public services such as education or healthcare, reported Time.
During his campaign for the presidency, Zelenskyy had pledged to tackle corruption.
On 20 May 2019, Zelenskyy had said his election victory proved Ukrainians were tired of experienced politicians who over decades had created a country of opportunities – “opportunities to steal, bribe and loot”, reported Al Jazeera.
Ukraine ranked 117th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, while Russia was at 129th place.
The 2021 Corruption Perceptions Index placed Ukraine at 122nd position out of 180 countries.
Al Jazeera noted that year Ukraine was the second most corrupt nation in Europe, with Russia being the most corrupt at 136.
Ukraine performed slightly better and was placed in 116th position out of 180 nations in the 2022 Corruption Perceptions Index released on Tuesday (31 January). Russia was ranked 137th on the index.
“Unfortunately, this type of widespread systemic corruption is complicated to tackle and requires sustained efforts for at least a generation or even more,” Cristian Nitoiu, a lecturer in diplomacy and international governance at Loughborough University, told Al Jazeera in June last year.
“The legacy of the Soviet Union plays an important role, as citizens had to learn how to navigate a system of informal relations and rules, where everyone had equal rights on paper, but in practice, some people were more ‘equal’ than others”.
“These developments are not unique to Ukraine, as most post-Soviet and Communist countries experienced them, including Russia, but Ukraine, alongside Moldova, were extreme cases,” Nitoiu explained further.
Ukraine has taken steps to counter corruption in the past years.
The government has set up two anti-corruption bodies – the Corruption Prevention Agency and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau since the ouster of former president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014 following major protests.
Zelenskyy’s government has passed a law that ended the immunity granted to lawmakers from prosecution.
While Zelenskyy has been praised for some reforms, his efforts to weed out corruption have also been questioned.
Why Ukraine has sped up efforts now
Russian President Vladimir Putin has used corruption in Ukraine to justify Moscow’s invasion.
The United States and European allies have pressured Ukraine to clean up its house amid widespread corruption concerns.
On Tuesday, America’s treasury department said there were no indications that Ukraine misused US funds, adding that it would work with Ukrainian authorities to “ensure appropriate safeguards are in place so that US assistance reaches those for whom it is intended”.
Ukraine, which is seeking to become a full member of the European Union, is hoping the recent anti-corruption measures would advance its candidacy, as per The Washington Post.
Anti-corruption measures are “an important dimension of the EU accession process,” Ana Pisonero, a spokesperson for the European Commission, had said earlier in January, reported CNN.
With inputs from agencies
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