Ukraine raids billionaire’s home in wartime anti-corruption campaign
- Security services make mass actions before the EU summit
- Homes of a billionaire, former interior minister, are being searched
- New US weapons will nearly double Ukraine’s reach
- Ukrainian soldier says fighting Russian forces in Bakhmut
KYIV, Feb 1 (Reuters) – Security services raided the home of one of Ukraine’s most prominent billionaires on Wednesday, targeting a figure once believed to be a backer of President Volodymyr Zelensky in what authorities called a wartime anti-corruption purge.
The move, days before a summit with the European Union, appears to reflect Kyiv’s determination to demonstrate that it can steward billions of dollars in Western aid and shed its reputation as one of the world’s most corrupt countries.
It came after Kyiv secured huge weapons pledges from the West in recent weeks offering new capabilities — the latest expected this week to include missiles from the United States that will nearly double the firing range of Ukrainian forces.
Photos circulated on social media appear to show Igor Kolomoisky wearing a tracksuit and looking on in the presence of an SBU security service officer at his home.
The SBU said it had uncovered embezzlement of more than $1 billion at Ukraine’s largest oil company Ukrnafta and its largest refinery, Ukrtatnafta. Kolomoisky, who has long denied wrongdoing, once owned stakes in both firms, which Zelensky ordered confiscated by the state in November under martial law.
Separate inspections were carried out at the tax office and at the home of Arsen Avakov, who led the Ukrainian police as interior minister from 2014-2021. The SBU said it was taking measures against “people whose actions harm the security of the state in various spheres” and promised more details in the coming days.
“Any criminal who has the audacity to harm Ukraine, especially in the conditions of war, should clearly understand that we will put handcuffs on his hands,” the head of the Security Service of Ukraine, Vasyl Malyuk, was quoted as saying on the SBU’s Telegram channel .
The Prosecutor General’s Office said that Ukrtatnafta’s top management had been notified that it was under suspicion, as had a former energy minister, a former deputy defense minister and other officials.
Kolomoisky, who faces a fraud case in the United States, has been at the center of corruption allegations and litigation for years that Western donors say must be resolved before Kyiv can receive aid.
Zelensky, who first rose to fame as a sitcom star on Kolomoisky’s TV station, has long vowed to rid Ukraine of so-called oligarchs but has faced accusations that he is unable to act decisively against his former sponsor.
In a speech the night before the attacks, he hinted at new anti-corruption measures in time for a summit on Friday where Ukraine is expected to seek firm steps towards joining the EU.
“We are preparing new reforms in Ukraine. Reforms that will change the social, legal and political reality in many ways, making it more humane, transparent and efficient,” he said, promising to reveal the details soon.
LONG RANGE MISSILES
Ukrainian forces, which recaptured swaths of territory from Russian forces in the second half of 2022, have seen their advances stall since November. Kyiv says the key to regaining the initiative is securing advanced Western weapons.
Two US officials said a new A $2 billion package of military aid to be announced as soon as this week will for the first time include ground-launched small-diameter bombs (GLSDB), a new weapon designed by Boeing. (BA.N)
The inexpensive cruise missiles can hit targets more than 150 km (90 miles), a dramatic increase on the 80 km range of the missiles fired by the HIMARS systems that changed the face of warfare when Washington deployed them last summer.
That would put all of the Russian-occupied territory of mainland Ukraine, as well as parts of the Crimean peninsula seized by Moscow in 2014, within reach of Kyiv’s forces.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the arrival of longer-range American weapons would escalate the conflict.
Western countries pledged dozens of advanced main battle tanks for the first time last week, a breakthrough in support aimed at giving Kyiv the ability to retake occupied territory this year.
But the arrival of the new weapons is months away, and in the meantime Russia has gained momentum on the battlefield, announcing an advance north and south of the city of Bakhmut, its main target for months.
Kyiv disputes many of these claims and Reuters could not independently verify the full situation, but the locations of the reported fighting clearly show increasing Russian advances.
Troops were fighting building by building in Bakhmut for gains of just 100 meters (yards) a night, and the town was under constant Russian fire, a soldier from the Ukrainian unit of Belarusian volunteers told Reuters from inside the town.
Ukraine’s General Staff said late Tuesday that its forces had come under fire in Bakhmut and the villages of Klishchievka and Kurdyumivka on its southern approaches.
South of Bakhmut, Russia also launched a major new offensive this week against Vagledar, a long-held Ukrainian bastion at the crossroads of the southern and eastern front lines. Kyiv claims that its forces have so far held back there.
The influx of Western military and financial aid is putting new pressure on Zelensky to demonstrate that his government can clean up Ukraine.
Last week, he purged more than a dozen senior officials following a series of scandals and corruption allegations in the biggest shakeup of Ukraine’s leadership since the invasion.
After Wednesday’s attacks, the parliamentary leader of Zelensky’s Servant of the People party, David Arahamiya, wrote on Telegram: “The country will change during the war. If someone is not ready to change, then the state itself will come and help him change. “
Reporting from the Reuters bureaus Writing by Peter Graff Editing by Philippa Fletcher
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