Ukraine detains two top defence officials in graft case

The law must be approved by President Petro Poroshenko before it takes effect

Ukraine's anti-corruption bureau said Wednesday it had detained a deputy defence minister and another top military official for allegedly embezzling millions in state funding through an illegal oil-purchase scheme. The announcement was the highest-profile indictment against any official since the Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) launched a graft case against the now-deposed tax service chief Roman Nasirov in March. NABU did not identify the two defence officials but said the fraud had cost the budget 149 million hryvnias ($5.6 million / 4.7 million euros at today's exchange rate) in 2016. The bureau said the arrangement involved an oil purchase contract that was later revised to inflate the original price by 16 percent to benefit the unnamed supplier. "NABU detectives and special anti-corruption prosecutors have detained two suspected culprits -- a deputy defence minister of Ukraine and the director of the state resource procurement and supply department of the Ukrainian defence ministry," NABU said in a statement. Ukraine's defence ministry said an investigation into two officials whose titles matched those named by NABU was in progress but provided no other details. - Poroshenko's promise - Corruption has long ravaged the crisis-torn former Soviet republic and been a top concern of both Ukraine's foreign partners and global financial support organisations such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). But NABU has faced stiff resistance since its launch in December 2015 from institutions such as the general prosecutor's office and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU). Analysts view both as controlled by vested interests and incapable of leading independent probes into financial misdeeds. The IMF is pressing the pro-Western leaders who rose to power after a 2014 revolution ousted a Russian-backed regime to shore up NABU's efforts by setting up a special anti-corruption court. They say those indicted by NABU often walk free after paying bail and point to Nasirov's case as an example. Nasirov is still under investigation by the general prosecutor's office and has only been barred from leaving Kiev while he cooperates with the authorities in the slow-moving case. Poroshenko told a meeting of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in the French city of Strasbourg on Wednesday that Ukraine had reached "the point of no return for judicial reform". "I know that the creation of the Anti-Corruption Court draws special attention," Poroshenko said in comments released by his office. "Currently, we are looking for optimal way to establish this vital body." Poroshenko said the current draft law on anti-corruption courts had problems and required broader concensus. "That is why there is a need for all democratic political forces and civil society to get united," Poroshenko said.