Ukrainian Lawmakers Probe Gov't Spending

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukrainian lawmakers voted Thursday to set up a special committee to investigate how the government spent the billions of dollars it got from last year's privatization sale of a giant steel mill.


The move comes amid allegations that some of the 24.2 billion hryvna ($4.8 billion) received from the sale of Kryvorizhstal could not be accounted for.

The vote caused an uproar in parliament, and forced Parliament Speaker Oleksandr Moroz to call a temporary break as lawmakers swarmed the speaker's tribunal. When lawmakers returned, a revote was held to overcome objections raised by former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko's bloc, which has spearheaded the accusations that funds were diverted and which was unhappy with changes in setting up the committee.

Lawmakers in the 450-seat parliament approved the proposal in the second ballot with a vote of 348-0. President Viktor Yushchenko's party, which was in charge of the government when the privatization was held, refused to vote, as did the Socialists, who objected to the decision to hold a revote.

Mittal Steel Co. bought Kryvorizhstal last year in what was billed as Ukraine's biggest and most profitable privatization ever.

The sale price was nearly six times what the mill had fetched under former President Leonid Kuchma, who had sold it to a consortium made up of his son-in-law and another Ukrainian tycoon. That sale was later declared illegal by a Ukrainian court and canceled, and the mill was re-auctioned.

Tymoshenko, who was sacked by President Viktor Yushchenko before the sale took place, has accused the government that replaced her of diverting some of the windfall funds. Officials had pledged to direct some of the funds to the eastern Ukrainian region where the mill is located, to address some ecological and social-economic problems and top up the country's pension fund.

Parliament had initially proposed putting a Communist lawmaker in charge of the commission, but the Communists later withdrew their candidate. The commission will now be headed by a member of Tymoshenko's faction.

Source: AP

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