EU officials praise Ukraine for anti-graft raids

Top EU officials have praised Ukraine’s most recent anti-corruption raids as they gathered in Kyiv for unprecedented wartime talks, including on the country’s bid to join the union.

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, said during a press conference with president Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Thursday that she was “comforted” by signs that the country’s anti-corruption bodies had expanded their operations.

“I commend you on reacting so rapidly at the political level to make sure the fight against corruption is delivering tangible results and is further stepped up,” she told Zelenskyy.

Ukrainian investigators carried out multiple searches in connection with corruption allegations on the eve of a visit by top EU officials to discuss the country’s progress towards membership of the bloc. Von der Leyen is in Kyiv with more than half of her commissioners for talks with the Ukrainian government.

Ursula von der Leyen and Volodymyr Zelenskyy at the press conference on Thursday © Sergei Supinsky/AFP/Getty Images

The most recent raids come after a series of resignations of Ukrainian officials over alleged corruption or abuse of office. These moves were a signal that the country’s anti-corruption institutions were doing their job, and that “these things are not going unnoticed”, commission vice-president Valdis Dombrovskis told the Financial Times.

Successful justice reforms and anti-graft measures are among the most important membership criteria. An opinion from the commission last year on Ukraine’s application to join the EU set the need to further strengthen the fight against corruption as one of seven key recommendations for further reforms.

In perhaps the most striking image of the Ukrainian government’s renewed commitment to crack down on graft, agents from the state security service (SBU) searched the Dnipro home of Ihor Kolomoisky, a top oligarch who previously enjoyed close relations with Zelenskyy and members of his team. A dishevelled Kolomoisky, dressed in a grey tracksuit and slippers, was pictured watching on.

The SBU said the house was searched in connection with alleged embezzlement worth $1bn by the former management of two oil companies then partly backed by Kolomoisky.

In the past, Kolomoisky’s TV channel carried Zelenskyy’s shows and gave wall-to-wall coverage to his presidential campaign. His former lawyer served for a while as the president’s chief of staff.

Kolomoisky has been under investigation for years over fraud at a bank he co-owned and which had to be nationalised and recapitalised by the state. He is wanted for fraud by the FBI and has had billions of dollars of assets frozen by England’s High Court. Kolomoisky was called in for questioning by anti-corruption officers last year but has never been charged despite pressure from Ukraine’s western backers.

The government also removed several tax and customs officials for alleged corruption or unexplained wealth and carried out further investigations at the defence ministry related to a procurement scandal involving inflated prices for food for the armed forces.

The head of the Kyiv tax service, Oksana Datiy, was dismissed after investigators found she had multiple homes and luxury cars.

Dombrovskis pointed out that anti-graft measures were also part of the conditions attached to the EU’s financial assistance to Ukraine.

The EU is among Ukraine’s partners that are pouring huge sums into the country to help sustain a government and economy that are under relentless attack from Russia. Brussels is planning this year to extend macrofinancial assistance of €18bn to the country to keep the government afloat.

Ever since its independence from the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been struggling with deep-rooted corruption, ranking 116th out of 180 in an index of countries compiled by Transparency International for 2022.

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