Ukraine is taking a hard line against corruption as it continues talks to join the European Union.
Ukrainian authorities raided an influential billionaire’s home in what an ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy touted as a sweeping wartime clampdown on corruption that would change the country.
Ihor Kolomoisky held shares in two oil companies, Ukrnafta and Ukrtatnafta, which had both been seized under martial law last November after Ukraine’s security service (SBU) said it uncovered the embezzlement of more than $1bn.
“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 said on the SBU Telegram channel.
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.
SBU said it was cracking down on “people whose actions harm the security of the state in various spheres” and promised more details in the next few days.
Kolomoisky, currently facing a fraud case in the US, has been at the centre of corruption allegations and court disputes for years, which Western aid donors have said must be resolved for Kyiv to continue gaining support.
Many also questioned whether Zelenskyy would act against Kolomoisky after having risen to fame in a sitcom on his TV station.
David Arakhamia, a senior member of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, confirmed the search of Kolomoisky’s home, as well as the separate raids.
Arakhamia said the entire management of the Customs Service was set to be dismissed and high-ranking defence ministry officials had been served with notices informing them they were suspects in a case.
“The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready for change, then the state itself will come and help them change,” Arakhamia wrote on the Telegram messaging app.
In a statement, the prosecutor general’s office later said “corruption in a time of war is looting”.
Ukraine’s long-running battle against corruption has taken on vital significance as Russia’s invasion has made Kyiv heavily reliant on Western support and it needs to carry out reforms to join the 27-nation EU.
The raids come days before a European Union summit where Ukraine is expected to seek concrete steps into joining the 27-member bloc.
In Zelenskyy’s Tuesday night address, he discussed further anti-corruption measures that would come into effect.
“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.
In 2021, Ukraine ranked 122 out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s Corruption Index.
Last week, more than a dozen senior officials were removed from their positions following a series of scandals and corruption allegations in the biggest shake-up of Ukraine’s wartime government.
With the influx of Western funds, Zelenskyy, who came into office pledging to combat corruption before the invasion began, is hoping to clean up the country’s image.