Ukraine Raids Home of Billionaire in Wartime Anti-Corruption Crackdown

Ukrainian servicemen take part in tank military drills, amid Russia’s attack on Ukraine, in Kharkiv region, Jan. 25. (REUTERS/Vitalii Hnidyi)

KYIV (Reuters) – Security services searched the home of one of Ukraine’s most prominent billionaires on Wednesday, moving against a figure once seen as President Volodymyr Zelensky’s sponsor in what the authorities called a wartime anti-corruption purge.

The action, days before a summit with the European Union, appears to reflect determination by Kyiv to demonstrate that it can be a steward of billions of dollars in Western aid and shed a reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt states.

It came as Kyiv 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.

Photographs circulating on social media appeared to show Ihor Kolomoiskiy dressed in a sweatsuit and looking on in the presence of an SBU security service officer at his home.

The SBU said it had uncovered the embezzlement of more than $1 billion at Ukraine’s biggest oil company, Ukrnafta, and its biggest refiner, Ukrtatnafta. Kolomoiskiy, who has long denied wrongdoing, once held stakes in both firms, which Zelensky ordered seized by the state in November under martial law.

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 2014-2021. 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 social media 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 defense minister and other officials.

Kolomoiskiy, who faces a fraud case in the United States, has been at the center of corruption allegations and court disputes for years that Western donors have said must be resolved for Kyiv to win aid.

Zelensky has long promised to rid Ukraine of so-called oligarchs, but had faced accusations that he was unable to move decisively against his former sponsor.

In an address overnight before the raids, he 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.

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