Zelensky steps up anti-corruption campaign after 15 Ukrainian officials quit | UkraineThank you for reading this post, don't forget to subscribe!
A number of Ukrainian officials have been fired or resigned over the past four days amid allegations of corruption, as Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky tries to take a zero-tolerance approach to the issue.
Fifteen senior officials have left their posts since Saturday, six of whom were accused of corruption by journalists and Ukrainian anti-corruption authorities.
The wave of changes began on Saturday, when Ukrainian Deputy Infrastructure Minister Vasyl Lozynsky was detained by anti-corruption investigators and relieved of his post. He was accused by the prosecutor’s office of inflating the prices of winter equipment, including generators which allegedly siphoned off $400,000. Investigators also found $38,000 in cash in his office.
Following Lozinski’s arrest, Zelenskiy pledged in his evening address to adopt a zero-tolerance approach to corruption, a problem that has plagued Ukraine since independence.
“I want to be clear: there will be no going back to the way things were before,” the president said.
Zelensky also said on Sunday that “decisions” would be made this week on the issue of corruption, without specifying what they would be. The European Union has said Ukraine must meet anti-corruption standards before it can become a member.
After Zelensky’s address, four more senior officials involved in separate corruption scandals were fired or resigned.
They include Vyacheslav Shapovalov, the deputy defense minister under whose watch allegedly inflated food contracts were allegedly signed. He has admitted no wrongdoing. Kyrylo Tymoshenko, the deputy head of Ukraine’s presidential administration, who was filmed by journalists driving a car belonging to prominent Ukrainian businessmen, also denied wrongdoing. Pavlo Halimon, deputy head of Zelensky’s political party, did not comment on the latest evidence presented by journalists that he bought a house in Kyiv beyond his means.
Oleksiy Simonenko, Ukraine’s deputy prosecutor general, who went on vacation in Spain in late December in a Mercedes owned by a prominent Ukrainian businessman, was also fired. In response to the scandal, Ukraine’s National Security Council on Monday banned officials from traveling abroad until the end of the war, except for those on official business. Until Monday’s rulings, male servicemen were considered exempt from the ban on Ukrainian male servicemen leaving the country.
The shake-up continued on Tuesday afternoon, with Ukraine’s Cabinet of Ministers announcing that five regional heads had been released, only one of whom was under investigation for corruption, along with three other deputy ministers and two heads of state agencies – none of whom was elected accused of corruption.
Leading anti-corruption activist Vitaly Shabunin said the dismissal of those accused of corruption is proof that Ukraine’s newly formed anti-corruption system is working.
“Not only is the anti-corruption system working, but politicians are also learning to work in a new way,” said Shabunin. Shabunin gave the example of Lozinsky, whose boss, Infrastructure Minister Alexei Kubrakov, asked the cabinet to fire him an hour after he was detained and his office searched.
Shabunin, however, criticized Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov for protecting and not firing Shapovalov, his deputy minister in charge of logistics, when the Ukrainian publication ZN.UA published contracts on Saturday showing that the cost of some food for soldiers was several times higher -higher than in a supermarket.
Shapovalov resigned on Tuesday to avoid, he said, destabilizing the Ukrainian army amid the accusations against the ministry.
Reznikov said the allegations were part of an information attack on the ministry and ordered Ukraine’s security services to investigate who leaked the contracts.
Shabunin said the corruption scheme was “too primitive” to be understood by the public. According to the contracts obtained by the journalists, one egg costs 17 Ukrainian hryvnias (37p). The prices of eggs, potatoes and cabbage are well known in Ukraine, said Shabunin, who noted that wholesale prices should be lower than in supermarkets.
The Ministry of Defense did not deny the authenticity of the contract, but insisted that the announced price was a technical error.
“Society has lost confidence in Reznikov,” Shabunin said. “All the (military) contracts are non-public because of the war and that’s normal… but why should I trust him now that all the prices in the other contracts are OK?” It’s all about trust.”
In a lengthy response on his Facebook page in English and Ukrainian, Reznikov did not deny the authenticity of the contracts. However, he said the price of the eggs was a technical error discovered in December and when it was discovered, the official in the ministry was suspended. He also said he was prepared to set up a parliamentary committee to investigate because he was “convinced that (the ministry) did it right”.
Corruption has been a thorny issue for Ukrainian journalists and activists since the beginning of the war. They worry that gathering evidence of corruption could damage international support for their country’s war effort.
Shabunin said that after the war, a tacit pact developed between activists and journalists and the authorities. “We will not criticize the authorities as we did before the war, but in return the authorities must react very firmly and quickly to any, even petty corruption – as they did in the case of [Lozinskyi]. There they fulfilled the social contract. But the Ministry of Defense has not.
Shabunin added that Reznikov’s dismissal is the only way to regain the trust of Ukraine’s Western partners.
The US is Ukraine’s biggest financial supporter. His ambassador to Ukraine, Bridget Brink, told a conference in Kyiv on Monday: “There can be no place in a future Ukraine for those who use state resources for their own enrichment. Government resources should serve the people.
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