Thursday, March 26, 2015

Ukraine Arrests 2 Officials As Nation Watches On TV

KIEV, Ukraine -- In a carefully orchestrated spectacle calculated to dramatize a newly aggressive anticorruption campaign, the Ukrainian authorities on Wednesday arrested two senior government officials during a televised cabinet meeting in Kiev.

The head of the Ukrainian state emergency service, Serhiy Bochkovsky, and his deputy, Vasiliy Stoyetsky, were arrested and charged with corruption during a televised government meeting.

Prime Minister Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, who was in the room, declared it a warning to public officials about abusing their offices or stealing from taxpayers.

With the cameras rolling and top government officials sitting around a huge wooden conference table, police officers in thick bulletproof vests and knit caps handcuffed the director of Ukraine’s emergency services ministry, Sergiy Bochkovsky, and his deputy, Vasyl Stoyetsky, and led them from the room.

Both Bochkovsky and Stoyetsky were wearing dark uniforms covered in medals.

“This will happen to everyone who breaks the law and sneers at the Ukrainian state,” Mr. Yatsenyuk told journalists who watched the arrests.

The Interior Ministry later said that Bochkovsky and Stoyetsky would be charged with crimes including embezzlement and abuse of power.

The Ukrainian government has long been hobbled by deep-rooted corruption and mismanagement, a source of angry, public frustration that was a factor in the street protests in Kiev last year that ousted President Viktor F. Yanukovych.

But the efforts to fight corruption and hold former public officials accountable have proved to be frustratingly slow and largely ineffective, as the new government has been forced to deal first with Russia’s invasion and annexation of Crimea, and then with a war waged by Russian-backed separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

With Ukraine’s economy collapsing, officials appealed desperately for international assistance.

Western allies of the Kiev government have been eager to help, but have stepped up pressure for a more aggressive approach on corruption, making it a condition for assistance.

Even so, a new anticorruption bureau formed partly at the behest of the International Monetary Fund still does not have a director.

In recent weeks, however, a number of steps have been taken in the government and in Parliament, including the dismissal of the country’s top prosecutor.

Last month, the authorities arrested a former leader of Yanukovych’s Party of Regions, Oleksandr Yefremov, on charges of abuse of power in connection with another embezzlement scheme, this one involving overpayment by the government for coal.

Yefremov was released on bail.

And a deputy head of the Party of Regions, Mykhailo Chechetov, who had been charged with abuse of authority, committed suicide on the night of Feb. 27 by leaping from a window of his 17th-floor apartment in Kiev.

Chechetov had been under house arrest and wore an electronic monitoring bracelet.

This month, the authorities in Spain arrested a former Ukrainian finance minister, Yuri Kolobov, who is accused along with other senior officials in Yanukovych’s government of misappropriating millions of dollars.

So far, he is the only former minister to be detained, though others are being sought, including several who fled to Russia.

The arrests of the two emergency services officials came hours after President Petro O. Poroshenko dismissed the billionaire governor of Dnipropetrovsk, Igor V. Kolomoisky, in a dispute that critics said reflected other murky dealings between the government and the country’s richest businessmen.

Kolomoisky was angry over legislation that curtailed his power over two state-controlled energy companies in which he owned a minority stake.

The battle with Kolomoisky, who had been one of the government’s staunchest allies, raised questions about other disputes that may unfold involving the country’s so-called oligarchs, who have long found ways to benefit from the mismanagement and malfeasance in the Ukrainian government.

Private militias financed by Kolomoisky had helped prevent Russian-backed separatists from advancing from Donetsk and Luhansk into the heart of Ukraine.

Some prominent members of Parliament had called for Kolomoisky’s removal and on Wednesday said it should be just the start of a campaign to reduce the influence of the oligarchs.

The government in the meantime seemed intent on making an example of the emergency services officials, who it said had overseen a wide-scale corruption scheme in which fuel for government vehicles was purchased at inflated prices.

Anton Herashchenko, a member of Parliament who serves on a board overseeing the Interior Ministry, said that up to 20 percent of the amount spent on fuel was diverted to bank accounts of  Bochkovsky and Stoyetsky in Cyprus and in Jersey, part of the Channel Islands off the coast of Normandy.

“Search operations conducted by the Ministry of Internal Affairs over the last six months helped detect and document in detail the whole vertical of corruption led by the top leadership” of the emergency services ministry, Mr. Herashchenko said in a statement.

Source: The New York Times

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