By Tom Balmforth and Olena Harmash
KYIV – A top ally of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Monday corrupt officials would be rounded up and jailed as part of a zero tolerance policy, after the most high-profile graft allegations since Russia invaded burst into public view.
Ukraine has a long history of battling corruption and shaky governance, though there had been few examples since Moscow’s invasion last year as Kyiv has fought back Russian troops and received Western financial and military support.
On Sunday, anti-corruption police said they had detained the deputy infrastructure minister on suspicion of receiving a $400,000 kickback to facilitate the import of generators into wartime Ukraine last September.
Separately, a newspaper investigation published on Saturday accused the Defence Ministry of overpaying suppliers for food for its soldiers. The ministry said the report contained “signs of deliberate manipulation” and was “misleading”.
David Arakhamia, head of Zelenskiy’s Servant of the People party, said it was made clear during the invasion that officials should “focus on the war, help victims, cut bureaucracy and stop dubious business”.
“Many of them got the message. But many of them did not unfortunately. 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.
Before last year’s invasion, fighting corruption was the principal theme for Zelenskiy, a political novice swept into power in a landslide in 2019 on a promise to clean up Ukraine’s notoriously crooked institutions. In his nightly video address, Zelenskiy said measures would be announced this week.
“I want this to be clear: there will be no return to what used to be in the past, to the way various people close to state institutions or those who spent their entire lives chasing a chair used to live,” Zelenskiy said.
Several Ukrainian media outlets have reported that a number of cabinet ministers and senior officials could be sacked imminently as Zelenskiy tries to make the government more effective and streamlined.
Ukraine, whose economy shrank by a third last year, is hugely dependent on Western financial aid and donors such as the International Monetary Fund and EU have repeatedly asked for more transparency and better governance.