Ukraine prosecutors seek to detain top manager in closely watched graft case
By Dan Peleschuk
KYIV (Reuters) - Anti-corruption authorities in Ukraine are seeking the pre-trial detention of the former head of a state oil and gas giant in a case at the forefront of Kyiv's battle against corruption which has also attracted public criticism.
Prosecutors on Friday asked the High Anti-Corruption Court of Ukraine to place Andriy Kobolyev, who is suspected of embezzlement while leading Naftogaz, in custody unless he posts around $10 million in bail.
Investigators from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) believe he may have broken the law by effectively awarding himself a $10 million bonus in 2018 after winning an arbitration case in Stockholm against Russia's state gas monopoly.
Kobolyev was dismissed from Naftogaz abruptly in 2021, a move which drew scrutiny from the United States and prompted the resignation of its supervisory board.
He has denied wrongdoing and the case has sparked divisions among Ukrainians closely following Kyiv's battle to root out graft, which its Western partners have prioritised as the country pushes to join the European Union.
Kobolyev, who had a successful private-sector career before joining Naftogaz, was seen by some as a reformer who sought to break up bureaucracy.
His supporters claim the case is shaky and could taint Ukraine's prized anti-graft institutions at a crucial moment.
"This is a person who has not only turned the biggest losing company in Ukraine into the biggest donor to the budget, but also scored a huge reputational victory in the international arena for Ukraine," said Mark Savchuk, head of a civic oversight board that monitors NABU.
In a recent analysis of the case, the Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC), which monitors graft and helps craft reforms, said the suspicion against Kobolyev - which is not a formal charge - holds merit but that detaining him would be excessive.
There has also been criticism of a case involving Andriy Pivovarsky, a former infrastructure minister suspected of abusing office and causing $30 million in damages to the state. The anti-corruption court will consider his case further on March 15.
NABU will be under increasing scrutiny after the government confirmed its new director on March 6, amid concerns by watchdogs over his political independence.
(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Hugh Lawson)