Ukrainian authorities have conducted a series of anti-corruption raids across the country, uncovering stashes of cash as well as luxury watches and cars.
Among those caught up in the investigations is the acting head of the Kyiv tax authority, who was allegedly part of a scheme to overlook 45 billion Ukrainian hryvnia ($1.2 billion) in unpaid taxes.
On Wednesday, the State Bureau of Investigations (SBI) said that it had found hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, as well as luxury watches and cars, at the tax chief’s residence. CNN is attempting to reach that individual for comment.
The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) said the raids were part of an effort to combat what they described as “the internal enemy” in the country.
“Every criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in times of war, must clearly understand that we will handcuff his hands,” said Vasyl Maliuk, head of the SBU, in a statement.
The raids come as President Volodymyr Zelensky said his government is working on “new reforms” that will make the country “more human, transparent and effective” as he prepares to meet European Union officials on Friday for talks on Ukraine’s possible accession to the bloc.
Anti-corruption measures are “an important dimension of the EU accession process,” said Ana Pisonero, a spokesperson for the European Commission, on January 24.
Various raids took place on Wednesday including a search of former interior minister Arsen Avakov’s property, which was tied to an investigation into the January 18 helicopter crash that killed 14 people.
Avakov was interior minister when the ‘Super Puma’ ES-225 helicopter involved in the crash was purchased from France as part of a contract signed in 2018. On Wednesday, he denied any wrongdoing and said that the contracts were approved by parliament.
As is standard, Ukrainian authorities have said they are investigating all possible causes of the helicopter crash, including pilot error, technical malfunction and sabotage.
The SBU also accused the “former management” of Ukraine’s largest oil extraction and refinery firms of the “misappropriation” of $1.1 billion.
“It was established that the illegal mechanisms were combined with tax evasion and money laundering,” said the SBU.
Oil firms PJSC Ukrnafta and PJSC Ukrtatnafta were nationalized last year as part of Ukraine’s martial law.
Top managers at PJSC Ukrtatnafta were served with a notice of suspicion of committing criminal offenses, according to the SBU.
The SBU also said that it had charged the Ministry of Defense’s former head for procurement with embezzlement over the purchase of thousands of substandard protective vests.
The official spent the equivalent of $2.7 million on almost 3,000 bulletproof vests for the Ukrainian armed forces which were later found to be unable to “properly protect Ukrainian soldiers.”
The SBU said that the official was charged with “misappropriation, embezzlement or seizure of property through abuse of office,” obstruction of the armed forces, and “committing a criminal offense by a group of persons.”
The SBU said that the individual faced five to eight years in prison, and had recalled the sub-standard vests.
“In addition, the SBU is conducting investigative actions against other officials in the security and defense sector who may be involved in illegal activities that harm state security. This is a set of measures aimed at strengthening the defense capabilities of our state.”
The raids come after Zelensky fired a slew of senior Ukrainian officials amid a growing corruption scandal linked to the procurement of war-time supplies, in the biggest shakeup of his government since Russia’s invasion began.
David Arakhamia, the parliamentary majority leader, said that authorities were conducting a “spring raid campaign instead of sowing campaign.”
“The country will change during the war,” Arakhamia said. “If someone is not ready for change, the state will come and help them change.”