On Tuesday (May 16), Ukrainian authorities announced the arrest of the chief of the country’s supreme court as part of a bribery investigation involving $2.7 million. This development occurs as Ukraine, amidst its ongoing conflict, continues to prioritize anti-corruption efforts necessary to fulfill the requirements for EU membership.
“The head of the supreme court has been detained,” said Oleksandr Omelchenko, a prosecutor who is a part of Kyiv’s Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO). He also said that the detention was over a suspected bribery scheme which is awaiting a formal “notice of suspicion”.
However, the prosecutor named one of the two judges, Ukraine’s head of the court, Chief Justice Vsevolod Kniaziev while the other individual remains unknown. The head of Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU), Semen Kryvonos, called this the “biggest-ever case” which could implicate the country’s judiciary.
In a joint press conference with NABU Omelchenko also said, “At this time, the head of the Supreme Court has been detained and measures are being taken to check other individuals for involvement in criminal activity”.
The anti-corruption officials have alleged that Ukrainian billionaire Kostiantyn Zhevago, owner of Finance and Credit financial group, of offering a bribe to court officials while a law firm acted as an intermediary. However, Zhevago has denied wrongdoing. The officials have also said that the Ukrainian billionaire had transferred $2.7 million to the lawyers out of which $1.8 million was to be paid to Supreme Court justices, reported AFP.
Additionally, some $900,000 was given to lawyers for their “services as intermediaries”. Zhevago, who was also a member of the Ukrainian parliament, is currently detained in France on suspicion of money laundering and embezzling funds in Kyiv. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian Supreme Court conducted an emergency session where it condemned the corruption and said it would fully cooperate with the investigation.
Additionally, the court has also initiated a process for expressing no confidence in Kniaziev. According to the officials in Kyiv, Zhevago had hoped to bribe the court which could allow him to keep control of his shares which were in the centre of a dispute with former shareholders.
Notably, while Ukraine is in the midst of a conflict with Russia, it has ramped up its efforts to battle against corruption in a bid to join the EU. Earlier this year, multiple officials in Kyiv were dismissed or resigned following accusations of corruption.