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Ukraine corruption scandal: String of officials resign in Kyiv

Several senior Ukrainian officials announced their resignations on Tuesday amid a damaging corruption scandal. 

Reports of foul play in Ukraine’s high offices broke over the weekend, surrounding illicit payments to deputy ministers and over-inflated military contracts. 

Deputy Defence Minister Vyacheslav Shapovalov, Deputy Head of the Presidential Administration Kyrylo Tymoshenko and Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Simonenko are among the officials who have quit. 

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said personnel changes were being carried out at senior and lower levels. 

However, the scandal could dampen Western enthusiasm for the Kyiv government, which has a long history of shaky governance, especially at a time when it is seeking more military support.  

Over the weekend, a Ukrainian newspaper investigation accused the Defence Ministry of signing off contracts to supply food to frontline troops at “two to three” times the regular price. 

The amount in question is €320 million for 2023, according to the ZN.UA news site.

“Even if these accusations are unfounded [the resignations] will make it possible to preserve the confidence of society and international partners,” said the Ministry of Defence in a press release. 

On Sunday, the ministry dismissed the allegations as false, claiming the reports are “deliberate manipulation”.

It warned it would open an investigation into the “dissemination” of “misleading” information, which “harms the interests of defence during a special period”.

Separately, anti-corruption police arrested the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a 367,000 euro bribe to buy overpriced generators last September, an allegation the minister denies.

The supplier has claimed this was a mistake and no money had changed hands. 

The timing of the allegations is sensitive, with Ukraine gripped by power cuts in biting winter weather. 

The scandal, which has sent shockwaves through Ukraine, comes as European countries bicker over giving Kyiv German-made Leopard 2 tanks – the workhorse of armies across Europe.

Ukraine says it needs them to break through Russian lines and recapture territory, though some European officials have warned delivery of such heavy weaponry could escalate the conflict.

David Arakhamia, head of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, said officials should “focus on the war, help victims, cut bureaucracy and stop dubious business”.

“We’re definitely going to be jailing actively this spring. If the humane approach doesn’t work, we’ll do it in line with martial law,” he said.

Zelenskyy was elected in 2019 on the promise of wide-reaching reforms to battle corruption and improve the economy.

During his time in office, the Ukrainian president sacked numerous ministers and officials as he battled to fight the malign influence of powerful people in the country.

Analysts notably believe that the series of high-profile resignations amid Kyiv’s corruption purge show that these types of actions bear not only criminal but also political responsibility.

“It is a good example of how institutions and anti-corruption and checks and balances mechanisms established after the (2014 Maidan) Revolution of Dignity are working despite a full-blown war going on in the country,” Deputy Executive Director for Legal Affairs at Transparency International Ukraine Kateryna Ryzhenko told Euronews.

“But the final part of these events should be played by the prosecution, investigative body, and the court when these cases are adjudicated to the full extent of the law,” she added.