Ukrainian authorities stepped up an anti-corruption campaign with a new round of raids and dismissals, as its military braced for a major Russian offensive and what one senior Kyiv official said would be the “defining months” of the war with Russia.
The security services searched the homes of billionaire Ihor Kolomoiskiy, former Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov and pro-Russian politician Vadym Stolar, while investigations were announced into senior officials at the country’s defence ministry, and the leadership of the national tax agency was sacked en masse.
The flurry of separate cases came barely a week after four deputy ministers and five regional governors were dismissed along with a deputy prosecutor general and the deputy chief of staff of Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s administration, and ahead of a Ukraine-European Union summit on Friday at which Kyiv wants to show allies that it is still pursuing reforms 11 months into a devastating Russian invasion.
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“The country will change during wartime. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” said David Arakhamia, parliamentary leader of Mr Zelenskiy’s ruling Servant of the People party.
Vasyl Malyuk, the head of Ukraine’s SBU security service, said the agency was “dealing a massive blow to the internal enemy. And this is clearly evidenced by large-scale searches, serving notices of suspicion and the arrest of criminals of various levels.”
He added: “Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in wartime, must clearly understand that we will put him in handcuffs. The SBU will put maximum effort into this.”
Mr Avakov said his house was searched in connection with a helicopter crash near Kyiv last month that killed 14 people, including then interior minister Denis Monastyrsky and two of his senior deputies, but that “nothing of interest to the investigation was found”.
Ukraine’s economic security agency said it had uncovered suspected tax-evasion and embezzlement schemes amounting to about €1 billion at two oil firms, both of which were at one time part-owned by firms belonging to Mr Kolomoiskiy. He was not mentioned in the agency’s statement, and he has long denied accusations of financial wrongdoing.
The state bureau of investigations (SBI) also announced a series of high-profile investigations, including a raid on the home of the head of Kyiv’s tax service, which it accused of taking part in a scheme to overlook about €1 billion in unpaid taxes. Investigators said her large property portfolio was not in line with her official income, and that cash in various currencies worth more than €150,000 had been found at one of her homes, along with a host of luxury items.
“The time when it was possible to rob the state with impunity and undermine its combat readiness has passed, and passed a long time ago. If someone still hasn’t figured it out, so much the worse for them,” said SBI chief Oleksiy Sukhachev.
Top Ukrainian and EU officials are due to meet on Friday to discuss aid to the embattled state and its prospects for joining the bloc, and Kyiv is eager to assuage corruption concerns among allies that it is pressing to provide more arms and ammunition.
Heavy fighting is continuing in the Donetsk region of eastern Ukraine, where Russia has made gains in recent weeks, but Kyiv says bigger battles will begin soon.
“We went through an extensive difficult period, but I’m conscious the main fights are yet to come and they will happen this year, within two to three months,” Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of Ukraine’s national security and defence council, told Sky News.
“These will be defining months in the war,” he added.
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