Anti-corruption police in Ukraine have arrested a former MP and the boss of a major energy firm over the embezzlement of $17.3 million (€16.2 million).
Investigators from the country’s national anti-corruption bureau (Nabu) arrested ex-lawmaker Mykola Martynenko and Sergiy Pereloma, the deputy chief of gas company Naftogaz, over allegations they were involved in a scam to sell uranium at inflated prices to a state-run enrichment plant.
Martynenko, a former chairman of the Ukrainian parliament’s fuel and energy committee, was released on police bail despite prosecutors pushing for him to be detained in pre-trial custody.
A Kyiv court agreed to release Martynenko after senior officials said they would make sure he complied with his responsibilities as a suspect in the case.
Martynenko is a close ally of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk. His lawyer, Igor Cherezov, said the charges against his client are politically motivated.
Pereloma’s lawyer denied his client’s involvement in the scam, arguing that the matter related to activities that occurred before he joined the company.
“He has as much involvement in the case as you or I,” Igor Cherezov told Reuters.
In a statement, Nabu said: “From the start of the investigation [in December 2015], Nabu detectives sent 16 requests for international legal assistance to eight countries.”
“The investigation revealed that, among other things, the [stolen] money was spent on renting property in the EU for the suspects’ relatives, on medical treatment, and on paying lawyers to defend [one of the suspects] in another criminal case which is being investigated by the prosecutor’s office in Switzerland.”
The Ukrainian authorities are under increasing pressure to crack down on institutionalised corruption from the west and its lenders. A report published by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in October said the country must produce evidence that its fight against top-level graft is making progress if it wanted to continue receiving money from a $17.5 billion (€15.68 billion) bailout loan.
In December, a report published by the European Court of Auditors (ECA) said Ukraine is still perceived as the most corrupt nation in Europe, despite EU efforts to help the country crackdown on dishonest public officials and oligarchs.
“Despite reform efforts, Ukraine is still perceived as the most corrupt country in Europe. Vested interests influence public policy-making. Oligarchic clans continue to exert a dominant influence on Ukraine’s economy, politics and media,” the ECA said.
Prior to the publication of the ECA report, Transparency International released a report that rated Ukraine as one of the most corrupt countries in Europe and Central Asia. According to the study, more than 80% of Ukraine citizens said their government was doing badly in its efforts to fight corruption, while over 50% said their politicians were highly corrupt.