Berlin In the middle of the war in Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reacted to several suspected cases of corruption with a series of dismissals. A total of four deputy ministers, the deputy presidential administration, governors and employees in various authorities, offices and the public prosecutor’s office have lost their jobs.
The allegations of corruption became known over the weekend, and Selenski has now announced a crackdown. Several suspects are in custody.
The Ukrainian President has become a symbol of the resistance of the Ukrainian people against the Russian invasion in his country and worldwide. He is tuned in and applauded at many major conferences, most recently at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
But again and again scandals scratch the image of the former comedian, who brought former TV comrades-in-arms from his production company into the government. Now, with the reports of corruption in his government, Selenski has gotten himself into a serious image problem.
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The defense department headed by Minister Oleksiy Resnikov made the start. The ministry is said to have procured eggs for the equivalent of 42 cents from a wholesaler instead of 17 cents in Kiev supermarkets. Other foodstuffs for the troops are said to have been bought at significantly overpriced. Resnikov, who recently met German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (SPD) and his US counterpart Lloyd Austin in Ramstein, has so far been able to pull his head out of the noose. For the time being, Zelenskiy only fired a deputy defense minister and five regional army chiefs.
Corruption in Ukraine: Prime Minister Schmyhal has also been criticized
The anti-corruption prosecutor’s office arrested Deputy Minister of Infrastructure and Regional Affairs Vasyl Lozynskyi. He is said to have accepted a bribe of the equivalent of 400,000 euros to buy diesel generators. The man who wanted to bribe the deputy minister was arrested on Tuesday. Losynskyj is considered to be sponsored by Prime Minister Denys Schmyhal. According to the Ukrainian media, the head of government personally chosen by Zelenskiy is also coming under political pressure.
The deputy head of the presidential administration and former TV producer Kirill Tymoshenko forestalled his expulsion by resigning. He has previously been criticized for allegedly benefiting unfairly from aid deliveries to Ukrainian cities.
The wave of layoffs extends beyond the leadership ranks. Several customs officials were arrested and their overseers dismissed for suspected embezzlement and corruption in the export of grain.
The former head of the state gas company Naftogaz Ukrainy is under investigation because he is said to have received an excessive bonus. In 2018 he won a case before an international arbitral tribunal against the Russian gas monopoly Gazprom and won $4.6 billion. The Naftogaz board is said to have granted him a success bonus of 5.7 million euros. Investigators and lawyers are still arguing about pre-trial detention. The ex-CEO offers full cooperation with the authorities and sees himself as right, since the supervisory board has approved the bonus.
Sharp reactions from civil society
The fact that the corruption scandals became known was thanks to “civil society and, above all, the media in Ukraine”. These are “also able to uncover and fight corruption,” said Stefan Meister, Ukraine expert at the German Society for Foreign Relations. Above all, he sees the presidential administration as a “black box that is becoming more and more authoritarian and non-transparent” when it comes to distributing funds. There is no control by parliament, in which Selenski’s party “Servants of the People” is waving everything through.
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Other experts see the uncovering of the scandals as a living sign that corruption in Ukraine – in contrast to Russia – is being fought in real terms and call for tough action to be taken. “The war must not be used as an excuse not to investigate those responsible in the ministries and the army and not to radically sort them out,” demanded Serhiy Gajdaj, head of the political strategy consultancy of the same name in Kyiv.
Alex Lissiza, agricultural entrepreneur and head of the Ukrainian Farmers’ Association, calls the alleged misconduct in procurement for the army particularly shameful. “Because most Ukrainians focus on helping our soldiers,” says Lissiza. “Western governments will find it increasingly difficult to help a country if funds are being stolen there and the perpetrators are not being punished.”
Meanwhile, Zelensky himself emphasized on Sunday that combating corruption in war must not be neglected. This is also a signal to foreign allies, who support Ukraine with billions. The EU Commission also called for more efforts in the fight against corruption on Tuesday. This is part of the political conditions for further EU loans and also plays a key role in the EU accession process.
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