Ukrainian authorities have carried out a series of anti-corruption raids across the country, uncovering stashes of cash as well as luxury watches and cars.
Among those involved in the investigations is the acting head of Kyiv’s tax administration, who allegedly participated in a scheme to ignore 45 billion Ukrainian hryvnia ($1.2 billion) in unpaid taxes.
On Wednesday, the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) said it found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, along with watches and luxury cars, at the tax chief’s residence. CNN is trying to reach this person for comment.
Ukraine’s Security Service (SBU) said the raids were part of an effort to fight what they described as the “enemy within” in the country.
“Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in wartime, must clearly understand that we are going to handcuff his hands,” Vasyl Maliuk, head of the SBU, said in a statement.
The raids come as President Volodymyr Zelensky said his government was working on “new reforms” that will make the country “more humane, transparent and efficient” as he prepares to meet European Union officials on Friday to discussions on Ukraine’s possible membership of the bloc.
Anti-corruption measures are “an important dimension of the EU accession process”, European Commission spokesperson Ana Pisonero said on 24 January.
Various raids took place on Wednesday, including a search of the property of former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, linked to an investigation into the January 18 helicopter crash that killed 14 people.
Avakov was interior minister when the ES-225 “Super Puma” helicopter involved in the crash was purchased from France under a contract signed in 2018. On Wednesday he denied any wrongdoing and said said the contracts had been approved by Parliament.
As usual, Ukrainian authorities said they were investigating all possible causes of the helicopter crash, including pilot error, technical malfunction and sabotage.
The SBU also accused the “old management” of Ukraine’s largest oil extraction and refining companies of “embezzling” $1.1 billion.
“It has been established that the illegal mechanisms are combined with tax evasion and money laundering,” the SBU said.
The oil companies PJSC Ukrnafta and PJSC Ukrtatnafta were nationalized last year under Ukrainian martial law.
Senior executives of PJSC Ukrtatnafta received a notice of suspicion of criminal offenses, according to the SBU.
The SBU also said it accused the former Ministry of Defense procurement official of embezzlement for the purchase of thousands of substandard body armor.
The official spent the equivalent of $2.7 million on nearly 3,000 bulletproof vests for the Ukrainian Armed Forces, which later proved unable to “properly protect Ukrainian soldiers”.
The SBU said the official was charged with “embezzlement, embezzlement or seizure of property by abuse of power”, obstruction of the armed forces and “committing a criminal offense by a group of persons”.
The SBU said the individual faced five to eight years in prison and recalled the substandard vests.
“In addition, the SBU is conducting investigations against other security and defense sector officials who may be involved in illegal activities undermining state security. This is a set of measures aimed at strengthening the defense capabilities of our state.
The raids come after Zelensky sacked a slew of top Ukrainian officials amid a growing corruption scandal over the procurement of wartime supplies, in the biggest shakeup of his government since the start of the Russian invasion.
David Arakhamia, the parliamentary majority leader, said the authorities were waging a “spring raiding campaign instead of sowing a campaign”.
“The country will change during the war,” Arakhamia said. “If someone is not ready for change, the state will come and help them change.”