| 13 June 2024, Thursday |

Corruption accusations continue to plague top Zelenskiy aides

Oleh Maiboroda stored rolls of dollar dollars in a safe beneath his desk during his time as the CEO of one of the largest construction companies in Ukraine.

According to Maiboroda, the funds were intended to bribe governmental authorities into approving construction projects. He claimed that a lawyer named Oleh Tatarov, who is currently Volodymyr Zelenskiy, president of Ukraine, senior adviser, was given the responsibility of delivering the money.

In an interview in Vienna, where Maiboroda has relocated to avoid prosecution in Ukraine for his suspected involvement in corruption schemes involving the construction company Ukrbud Development LLC, Maiboroda said that Tatarov “used to solve all issues with law enforcement.”

Maiboroda’s remarks threaten to reignite a controversy that has plagued President Volodymyr Zelenskiy even in wartime: accusations by political opponents and anti-corruption campaigners that powerful people have shielded Tatarov from prosecution.

Maiboroda provided no proof of his accusations. They echo an allegation against Tatarov, levelled by Ukraine’s anti-corruption agencies, that he organised a bribe. Prosecutors closed the case in April 2022 on procedural grounds.

Tatarov, the president’s adviser on law enforcement and security agencies since 2020, has denied wrongdoing and has been convicted of no crime. He has said his accusers are trying to settle political scores. Zelenskiy has previously said corruption has no place in his administration. “I want to emphasise: if those who work with me are suspected of corruption, these people will be fired. And I have not yet seen such examples in my Office,” he said in an interview in December 2020 with Ukraine’s Focus magazine.

Neither Zelenskiy nor Tatarov responded to detailed questions for this article.

Zelenskiy has been lauded as a wartime leader since Russia began its full-scale invasion in February last year. Still, some have questioned his commitment to making good on his pledge to fight graft. Ukraine consistently ranks in the bottom half of Transparency International’s annual global Corruption Perceptions Index and, in the latest survey, for 2022, only Russia was rated more corrupt in Europe.

Billions of dollars of aid earmarked for Zelenskiy’s government as well as ambitions to join the European Union ride on Ukraine proving that it is serious about fighting corruption and embracing good governance.

In a report in June, the International Monetary Fund said donors and foreign investors need to see reforms to improve governance, transparency and tackle corruption “without delay.” In an assessment of Ukraine’s chances of EU membership, published in June 2022, the European Commission described corruption as “a serious challenge that requires continued attention.”

A survey by two Kyiv pollsters released on Sept 11 found that 78% of Ukrainians hold Zelenskiy accountable for government corruption. A related poll found that 55% believe Western military aid should be conditional on fighting corruption.

In recent months Zelenskiy has taken steps to respond to his doubters.

He fired more than a dozen senior officials in January amid public allegations of graft and impropriety, declaring, “Any internal problems that interfere with the state are being cleaned up and will be cleaned up.” Earlier this month, Zelenskiy replaced his defence minister, Oleksii Reznikov, citing the need for “new approaches.” This came after a series of allegations levelled by Ukrainian media that the defence ministry was procuring goods at inflated values. Reznikov told a press conference in Kyiv a week before his ouster that the reports are inaccurate.

The shake ups have left Tatarov in his post. Several political insiders interviewed by Reuters said he is a crucial figure in helping Zelensky control Ukraine’s sprawling security and law enforcement agencies.

“Tatarov has become the symbol of Zelenskiy’s tolerance of corruption in his inner circle,” the Kyiv Independent newspaper wrote earlier this year, citing the bribery allegation.

Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Centre (AntAC), an NGO, believes that in a healthy democracy any official accused of corruption should be suspended until cleared. “Unless Zelenskiy gets rid of Tatarov, he won’t be seen as serious in purging the country of corruption,” she told Reuters.

Tatarov’s allies say he is a victim of his own efficiency as Zelenskiy’s point man on law enforcement. “They’re going to try anything they can to bring this guy down because he’s the tip of the spear,” said Nicola Mirto, an Italian entrepreneur and former client of Tatarov. Mirto said Tatarov has earned the ire of powerful interests by supporting Ukraine’s anti-corruption drive against oligarchs.

  • Reuters