Ukrainian authorities raided an influential billionaire’s home on Wednesday in what an ally of President Volodymyr Zelenskyy touted as a sweeping wartime clampdown on corruption that would change the country.
Separate raids were carried out at the Tax Office and on the home of an influential former interior minister, two days before Kyiv hosts a summit with the European Union at which it wants to show it is cracking down after years of chronic corruption.
Ukraine sees Friday’s summit as key to its hopes of one day joining the bloc, a goal that has grown more urgent following Russia’s invasion and has embarked on a political shake-up in which more than a dozen officials quit or were sacked last week.
Security officials searched the home of businessman Ihor Kolomoiskiy, one of Ukraine’s richest men and a one-time Zelenskyy ally, in what several media outlets said was an investigation into possible financial crimes.
Kolomoiskiy could not immediately be reached for comment. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.
The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) later said it had uncovered a scheme to embezzle more than $1 billion at oil producer Ukrnafta and oil refining company Ukrtatnafta, companies that Kolomoiskiy used to partly own.
Photographs circulating on social media appeared to show Kolomoiskiy, dressed in a sweatsuit, looking on in the presence of at least one SBU officer inside a large wooden home. Reuters could not immediately verify the authenticity of the images.
In a statement that did not name Kolomoiskiy, the SBU published the same photographs, but with the person’s face blurred out.
David Arakhamia, a senior member of Zelenskyy’s Servant of the People party, confirmed the search of Kolomoiskiy’s home as well as the separate raids conducted at the Tax Office and at the home of Arsen Avakov, a former interior minister.
Arakhamia said the entire management of the Customs Service was set to be dismissed and that high-ranking defense ministry officials had been served with notices informing them they were suspects in a case. He gave no details.
“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” and that four senior current and former officials had been served “notices of suspicion,” along with the senior management of Ukrtatnafta.
The head of the State Bureau of Investigation said the law enforcement action was “only the beginning.”
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.
Domestic politics has largely been frozen as politicians focus on fighting Russia, but Zelenskyy presided over the first major political shakeup of the war last week after an outcry over a corruption scandal involving an army food contract.
Zelenskyy said on Tuesday that more personnel decisions were in the pipeline and promised reforms that would change Ukraine’s “social, legal and political reality.”
He was elected president in 2019 on an anti-corruption ticket and launched a crackdown on wealthy businessmen known as “oligarchs” in late 2021. The oligarchs took control of swathes of industry during the post-Soviet privatizations of the 1990s and continue to wield influence.
The Ukrainska Pravda media outlet said the search on Kolomoiskiy’s property related to an investigation into the alleged embezzlement of oil products and evasion of customs duties.
Separately, Avakov said his home was searched as part of an investigation into a helicopter crash on Jan. 18 that killed 14 people including Interior Minister Denys Monastyrskyi.
He said investigators were looking into the purchase six years ago of a model of Airbus helicopter that was involved in the crash, but that “nothing relevant to the interest of the investigation was found.”