Ukraine’s leader says the corruption investigation has exposed abuses by military officials.
President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has fired all the heads of Ukraine’s regional army recruitment centers in a major anti-graft move as the war with Russia enters a critical phase.
Zelenskyy announced their ouster in Kyiv on Friday, expanding his fight against corruption since Russia invaded Ukraine 18 months ago.
He said a state investigation at centers across Ukraine exposed abuses by officials from illegal enrichment to transporting draft-eligible men across the border despite wartime banning them from leaving the country.
Zelenskyy also said that 112 criminal cases have been opened against draft board officials suspected of accepting bribes and engaging in corrupt practices.
He uses harsh rhetoric that is likely to be welcomed by Ukrainians who fear wartime corruption charges.
“This system must be run by people who know what war is and why cynicism and bribery in wartime is treason,” he said, adding that those fired would be replaced by war veterans and soldiers wounded at the front.
Zelenskyy has previously fired senior officials suspected of corruption. It sends a signal to Western allies who have given Kyiv tens of billions of dollars in military aid that Ukraine is serious about curbing corruption, which has long plagued the country’s armed forces.
The long-simmering issue of corruption in Ukraine’s draft system exploded last June when a media investigation about Odesa’s regional draft commissar Yevhen Borysov was published, sparking a scandal.
The investigation reported millions of dollars worth of real estate and luxury cars allegedly owned by Borysov’s family members in Spain. Borysov has denied any wrongdoing, saying he had nothing to do with what his family bought.
After the report, the State Bureau of Investigation of Ukraine and its Security Service detained several staff members of the draft board suspected of bribery and corruption.
‘Prove their dignity’
Zelenskyy said that any dismissed army recruitment officers who were not investigated should come forward to fight for Ukraine “if they want to keep their epaulets and prove their dignity”.
“But let me emphasize: the army is not and will never be a substitute for criminal punishment. Officers who confuse epaulettes with benefits will definitely face trial,” he said.
Zelenskyy said that top General Valery Zaluzhny will be responsible for implementing Friday’s decision and that new candidates for the posts will first be vetted by Ukraine’s domestic security service, the SBU.
Despite recent anti-corruption measures, Ukraine is still ranked 116th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.
A Transparency-commissioned opinion poll in June found that 77 percent of Ukrainians believe that corruption is one of the country’s most serious problems.
Zelenskyy was elected in a landslide in 2019 on promises to reform the government and tackle corruption, which plagued the country before Moscow sent its troops across the border on February 24 last year.