Ukraine vows swift action over politicians’ questionable wealth

Prosecutor general says deputies already reporting each other in corruption inquiry

Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko warned that those found guilty of large-scale tax evasion could face up to 15 years in jail. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko warned that those found guilty of large-scale tax evasion could face up to 15 years in jail. Photograph: Valentyn Ogirenko/Reuters

 

Ukrainian anti-corruption agencies have pledged to act swiftly to identify and punish politicians who acted illegally in accumulating the riches revealed under a new law obliging officials and deputies to disclose their wealth.

Tens of thousands of officials at all levels had until Sunday to submit a full statement of their earnings and assets, using an online declaration system introduced as part of western-backed efforts to fight Ukraine’s rampant corruption.

The fact that politicians with modest official salaries own vast property portfolios, extravagant collections of everything from art and watches to weapons, and many millions of euro in cash was not a surprise to most Ukrainians.

The scale of the avarice did anger people, however, in a country that ousted a clique of corrupt leaders in 2014 protests. The average wage in Ukraine is also less than €200 a month, and there are still soldiers dying in a conflict against Russian-backed separatists.

“The online declaration is not the end of the process, but only the beginning,” said Ukraine’s prosecutor general Yuriy Lutsenko.

“We will analyse the declarations of that half of deputies who declared cash of more than $100,000 [€90,000].”

Tax evasion

Mr Lutsenko said his staff would look for indications of “unpaid taxes, which would attest to the illegality of this cash” and warned that those found guilty of large-scale tax evasion could face up to 15 years in jail.

No officials would be above scrutiny, Mr Lutsenko said, including Ukraine president Petro Poroshenko, a billionaire chocolate tycoon who owns more than 100 firms and who reneged on a promise to sell the biggest of them when he took power.

“The president of the state declared pretty big earnings, which were also the subject of his declarations in previous years. That removes most questions . . . But nevertheless, he like others will be checked” by prosecutors and anti-corruption agencies, Mr Lutsenko said.       

Those who gave expensive gifts or donations to politicians would also be checked for possible “tax evasion and money laundering”, said the prosecutor general, whose wife – who is herself a deputy – declared cash holdings equivalent to more than €300,000.

“I am already receiving reports from deputies against each other, [urging me] to check this one or that one,” Mr Lutsenko said, as reformists and anti-graft campaigners echoed public demands for urgent action against wrongdoers.

Western nations and financial institutions that are propping up Ukraine link continued funding to serious measures to clean up its economy.

Natalia Korchak, head of Ukraine’s national agency for the prevention of corruption, urged the public to be patient while declarations were analysed.

“It’s not a procedure that will take a month,” she said. “It might take some time, but it’s not a matter of years, believe me.”