Ukraine’s Parallel War on Corruption Opens the Door to the West

Kyiv: To an outsider, it may seem unlikely that Ukraine will redouble its efforts in the fight against corruption, as missiles rain down on cities and citizens fight for their lives.
Nonetheless, anti-corruption agencies have revived a years-old investigation into an official scheme they say led to electricity customers overpaying more than $1 billion, as well as a case which stalled in 2020 over the alleged theft of more than $350 million in assets and funds from a state-controlled oil company.
They have also launched new actions, including this month the arrest in absentia of a former state bank boss for his alleged role in the embezzlement of $5 million. He denies wrongdoing.
“Every week there are one or two big developments plus seven or eight smaller ones that are always important,” said jurist Vadym Valko, who monitors the work of anti-corruption authorities in Ukraine, which is fighting to get rid of oligarchs and strengthen its vulnerable institutions.
The activity reflects a parallel war Kyiv is waging against high-level corruption, according to Reuters interviews with half a dozen Ukrainian comptrollers and anti-corruption officials. The campaign is deemed sufficiently urgent that the government devotes resources to it, even during the Russian invasion.
Indeed, anti-corruption agencies flag their work almost daily in a flurry of statements and social media posts. In November alone, they said they opened investigations into 44 new criminal cases, issued 17 suspicion notices to people under investigation and forwarded six indictments to court.
In 2022, prosecutors filed at least 109 indictments in 42 cases, the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO) told Reuters, adding that 25 convictions had been handed down.
Work cannot wait, according to those interviewed, because the fight against endemic corruption is essential to reassure Western partners who are preparing to send the tens of billions of dollars in aid that will be needed to rebuild the country in the years to come.
It would also be crucial, they say, to obtain a status that guarantees Ukraine’s long-term security against any future aggression: membership of the European Union, which says that it is essential to control corruption for candidacy talks to begin.
“It is extremely important at this time for Ukraine to show itself as a predictable partner,” said Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, first deputy head of the parliamentary committee on anti-corruption policy, referring to Western donors.
“In reality, there are two wars going on in Ukraine at once: one open with Russia and another with the corrupt post-Soviet past playing out inside.”
Anti-corruption campaign is backed by the president Volodymyr Zelensky who vowed this month that Ukraine would fight both high-level corruption and Russian invasion.
“The story of reform continues,” said the actor-turned-warlord, who was elected in 2019 on promises to clean up Ukraine, in his evening speech.
“It continues even during this kind of war.”
Anti-corruption efforts, which continued after the Feb. 24 invasion, were stepped up over the summer under a new SAPO director, experts and officials say.
Oleksandr Klymenko took office in July after Zelenskyy publicly called for his nomination to be confirmed because the committee that had selected him more than six months earlier had still not officially endorsed the decision.
“Without a full-fledged head of such an institution, its full-fledged functioning is impossible,” Zelenskyy said at the time.
Klymenko provided the administrative muscle to revive some cases that had gathered dust, while pushing new ones forward, the people said.
For example, SAPO announced in late September that Klymenko had reopened the case regarding the scheme that allegedly overcharged electricity consumers. It had been repeatedly opened and closed over two years due to procedural errors and loopholes, SAPO prosecutors said at the time of the holdups.
In announcing its takeover, Klymenko’s office said the cases had not been reviewed thoroughly enough by prosecutors and assigned a new team to the investigation, which involves at least 15 suspects, most of them government officials. current and former.
In late October, anti-corruption officials announced they had issued new suspicion notices in the case, when suspects are told they are under investigation.
In the alleged plot to extract more than $350 million from the oil company, prosecutors in early September issued suspicion notices to eight people who had been awaiting approval from SAPO since early 2020.
New anti-corruption cases include an investigation launched in October into a former tax chief suspected of receiving more than $20 million in bribes. Reuters could not contact the ex-official for comment.
A SAPO spokesperson said Klymenko was not ready to comment on his work. The agency did not comment on individual cases and the recent flurry of activity, but said it was currently working on 693 cases with its sister agency, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU).
The United States, which supplies Ukraine with billions of dollars in weapons to fight Russia, supports Kyiv’s simultaneous drive to root out corruption.
“We are actively working with the Ukrainian government to ensure accountability, even in a difficult conflict environment,” a US State Department spokesperson said.
There is the prospect of more money on the way as donors assess the scale of their contributions to Ukraine’s planned reconstruction, a project largely dependent on foreign aid.
Central Bank Governor Andriy Pyshnyi said this month he expects 18 billion euros ($19 billion) from the EU and $10 billion from Washington next year in budget support alone immediate.
Beating corruption will not be easy in a country where experts say much is rooted in the chaos following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Despite progress in recent years, Ukraine still ranks 122nd out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.
Andrii Borovyk, executive director of Ukraine’s Transparency office, praised the current anti-corruption campaign but said the real measures of success would be the number of convictions and the state’s success in recovering the proceeds of corruption. as well as its enforcement of asset declarations.
“We will have to see what the end result will be,” he told Reuters.
The stakes have never been higher since Kyiv embarked on an anti-corruption drive after the 2014 “Maidan” revolution cemented Ukraine’s pro-EU course.
SAPO and NABU were established in 2015. SAPO oversees investigations launched by NABU and sends them to the anti-corruption tribunal, which started its work in 2019.
Collectively, they form the core of Ukraine’s anti-corruption law enforcement infrastructure, a collection of occupational groups where employees are relatively well paid.
SAPO prosecutors, for example, earn at least $2,500 a month, six times more than the Ukrainian monthly average. Business is going well; the agency is currently in the process of hiring eight new prosecutors.
NABU is also looking for a new director, which the EU says is a key vacancy for Ukraine’s anti-corruption efforts.
Even amid the turmoil of war, agencies are now more productive than in previous years, according to Olena Shcherbandeputy executive director of the Anti-Corruption Action Center in Kyiv, a partly Western-funded nonprofit think tank that campaigns for reforms and tracks Ukraine’s progress.
“NABU and SAPO are working more efficiently now than in the past two years combined,” she said.
Kyiv’s anti-corruption authorities are aware that the West is watching.
Kateryna Butko, a civic activist on the SAPO selection committee, acknowledged that Ukraine’s fight against corruption is often laborious. She added that foreign donors have a clear incentive to ensure its success by continuing to provide strong policy guidance.
“The work of our anti-corruption institutions is a guarantee that Western money will not be stolen,” she said.
Ordinary Ukrainians will also be watching, as Kyiv’s recent battlefield victories have fueled hopes that the country can prevail in the war and successfully rebuild.
An October survey by the Kyiv International Institute of Sociology found that at least 88% of the country believe Ukraine will be a successful member of the EU within 10 years.
Kyiv resident Kateryna, who was visiting the capital’s Christmas tree with a friend, said securing a military victory was Ukraine’s top priority.
But the 27-year-old, who did not give her last name, said it was also important to establish a just society in which to live, imbued with a clear sense that no one was above above the law.
“We don’t have that kind of understanding here yet.”


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