Ukraine billionaire among those targeted in fresh anti-corruption raids ordered by Zelensky

Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has promised to crackdown on corruption  (AFP via Getty Images)
Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky has promised to crackdown on corruption (AFP via Getty Images)

Ukraine has launched a fresh wave of high-profile anti-corruption raids, including the security services searching the home of one of the country’s most prominent billionaires, Ihor Kolomoisky.

The SBU security service said it had uncovered the embezzlement of more than $1bn (£880bn) at Ukraine’s biggest oil company, Ukrnafta, and its biggest refiner, Ukrtatnafta. Mr Kolomoisky, who has long denied wrongdoing and was not mentioned in the SBU statement, once held stakes in both firms, which Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky ordered seized by the state in November under martial law. Mr Kolomoisky is a former political ally of Mr Zelensky.

The raid comes before a summit with the European Union at the end of the week, and reflects a determination by Kyiv to demonstrate that it can be a steward of billions of dollars in Western aid and shed a reputation for endemic corruption.

“If anyone isn’t ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” said the head of Mr Zelensky’s party in parliament, David Arakhamia, on the Telegram messaging app.

Ukraine has secured huge pledges of weapons from the West in recent weeks offering new capabilities – the latest expected this week to include rockets from the United States that would nearly double the firing range of Ukrainian forces.

Beyond the raid on Mr Kolomoisky’s house in Dnipro, separate raids were carried out at the tax office, and the home of Arsen Avakov, who led Ukraine’s police force as interior minister from 2014 to 2021.

Mr Avakov, told Ukrainian media that his home had been searched as part of an inquiry into Ukraine’s purchase of Airbus helicopters six years ago. He was quoted as saying all the contracts had been approved at the time.

The SBU said it was cracking down on “people whose actions harm the security of the state in various spheres” and promised more details in coming days.

“Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in the conditions of war, must clearly understand that we will put handcuffs on his hands,” Ukraine’s security service chief Vasyl Malyuk was quoted as saying on the SBU Telegram channel.

The prosecutor general’s office said the top management of Ukrtatnafta had been notified it was under suspicion, as were a former energy minister, a former deputy defence minister and other officials.

Mr Kolomoisky became governor of the Dnipropetrovsk region in central in 2014 and played a key role in funding volunteer battalions in response to Russia’s initial land grab in eastern Ukraine that year. However, the US placed him under sanctions for alleged “significant corruption” during his time as governor from 2014 to 2015. Mr Kolomoisky has denied any wrongdoing.

Mr Zelensky, who first came to fame as the star of the sitcom, Servant of the People, on Mr Kolomoisky’s TV station, has long promised to rid Ukraine of so-called oligarchs, but had faced accusations that he was unable to move decisively against his former ally.

In an address overnight before the raids, Mr Zelensky alluded to new anti-corruption measures in time for Friday’s summit, at which Ukraine is expected to seek firm steps towards joining the EU.

“We are preparing new reforms in Ukraine. Reforms that will change the social, legal and political reality in many ways, making it more human, transparent and effective,” he said, promising to reveal the details soon.

Ukrainian forces which recaptured swathes of territory from Russian troops in the second half of 2022 have seen their advance stall in recent months. Mr Zelensky has issued repeated calls for advanced Western weaponry to push back Russian forces..

Reports in the US said a new $2bn package of military aid to be announced as soon as this week would for the first time include Ground Launched Small Diameter Bombs (GLSDB), a new weapon designed by Boeing.

The cheap gliding missiles can strike targets more than 150 km (90 miles) away, a dramatic increase over the 80 km range of the rockets fired by HIMARS systems which Washington sent them last summer.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the arrival of longer range US weapons would escalate the conflict, but not give Kyiv the advantage it seeks.

The infusion of Western military and financial aid creates pressure on Mr Zelensky to demonstrate to rid Ukraine of its reputation for corruption.

Last week, the Ukrainian president purged more than a dozen senior officials following a series of scandals and corruption allegations in the biggest shakeup of Ukraine’s leadership since the invasion.

On Wednesday, the US imposed sanctions on 22 individuals and entities in multiple countries that Washington accused of being tied to a global sanctions evasion network supporting Russia’s military-industrial complex.

In Russia, the country’s most prominent Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny said that prison authorities have placed him in a one-person cell for six months, a move his lawyer described as part of the authorities’ efforts to damage Mr Navalny’s health.

Mr Navalny, 46, said on Instagram that he had been denied the opportunity to visit with his family for the past eight months. The move to solitary confinement means he will not see his wife and children for another half a year, he said.

“Even maniacs and serial killers serving life sentences have the right for meetings, but I do not,” he said. “When such thing happens to you, you understand even more acutely how important it is to fight this unscrupulous government, how important it is to do at least something to free Russia from the yoke of these scoundrels from Russia and dispel the dope with which they have enveloped the heads of millions.”

Mr Navalny is serving a nine-year fraud sentence in a maximum-security prison, his supporters and a number of Western nations have called the charges politically motivated.

Also on Wednesday, a Moscow court has sentenced a Russian journalist in absentia to eight years in prison on charges of disparaging the military. Alexander Nevzorov, a television journalist and former legislator, was convicted on charges of spreading false information about the military under a law that was adopted soon after the Russian president Vladimir Putin sent troops into Ukraine.

Mr Nevzorov responded to the verdict by saying “I don’t think Russia will exist in nine years’ time.” In comments to a Russian news outlet, he said he had no plans to return to the country and that Mr Putin was heading “a dictatorship based on dirt, blood and denunciations”.

Reuters contributed to this report