Heads roll over Ukraine graft scandal, but Defense Chief Reznikov rejects rumours

KYIV — President Volodymyr Zelensky’s growing purge against corruption in Ukraine is turning heads, but Defense Minister Oleksiy Reznikov is denying rumors that he is slated to quit — a move that would be seen as a significant setback in the middle of a war with Kiev. Russia

Two weeks ago, Ukraine was rocked by two major corruption scandals centered on military catering services and government purchases of electrical generators. Instead of sweeping the dubious deals under the carpet, Zelensky launched a major crackdown, showing US and European Union allies that Ukraine was making a clean break from the past.

Tetiana Shevchuk, a lawyer at the Anti-Corruption Action Center, a watchdog, said Zelensky had to draw a line in the sand: “Because when the war is going on, people see that officials are conducting ‘business as usual’. They saw that the corrupt schemes did not disappear and this made people really angry. So the President had to show that he was in favor of fighting corruption.

Since the initial revelations, corruption investigations have snowballed, with enforcers uncovering more potential profiteers in the Ministry of Defense. Two former deputy defense ministers have been held in pre-trial detention.

As the scandal draws attention to his ministry, journalists and politicians have speculated that Reznikov – one of the most recognizable faces of Ukraine’s fight against Russian invaders – will be fired or at least transferred to another ministry.

But losing such a top name will be a big blow. At a news conference on Sunday, Reznikov dismissed claims of his imminent departure as rumours, and said only Zelensky was in a position to remove him. Although Reznikov acknowledged that his ministry’s anti-corruption department had failed and needed reform, he said he was still focused on ensuring Ukraine’s troops were properly equipped.

“Our main priority now is to provide the Ukrainian troops with the stable supplies they need,” Reznikov said at the press conference.

Despite his insistence that any decision to remove him could only come from Zelensky, Reznikov still warned that he was ready to leave — and that no official would serve in their position forever.

Speculation over Reznikov’s fate began on Sunday when Zelensky’s Servant of the People party chief David Arakhamia, an ally in parliament, released a statement saying Reznikov would soon be transferred to the post of minister of strategic industry to strengthen military-industrial cooperation. . Major General Kirill Budanov, the current head of the Military Intelligence Directorate, will head the Defense Ministry, Arakhamia said.

However, on Monday, Arakhamiya seemed to back off, and claimed that no defense ministry reshuffle was planned for this week. Marianna Bezuhlao, deputy head of the National Security and Defense Committee in Ukraine’s parliament, said the parliament decided to suspend any personnel decisions at the Defense Ministry because they consider broader risks to national defense before another meeting of defense officials. US Ramstein Air Base in Germany and before an expected imminent Russian attack.

Zelensky entered

The Ministry of Defense is not the only department to jump into the investigation. In the first days of February, the Security Service of Ukraine, the State Investigation Bureau and the Economic Security Bureau conducted dozens of searches in the customs service, tax service and local administrations. Officials at various levels have been dismissed a lot During the war their service is for subversion and harming the state.

“Unfortunately, the only way to ensure legitimacy in some cases is to change leaders while implementing institutional changes,” Zelensky said in a February 1 video address. Law enforcement officials. Thus, the movement towards justice can be felt. And justice will be done.”

Yuri Nikolov, its founder Nashi Groshi (Our Money) Investigative website, which broke the story in January about the Defense Ministry’s alleged profiteering on food and catering services for soldiers, said the dismissals and continued investigations are a first step in the right direction.

“Now let’s wait for the court’s verdict. It all looked like a well-coordinated event,” Nikolov told Politico. “At the same time, it’s good that the government prefers such a demonstrative fight against corruption, instead of hiding corrupt officials.”

Yet, even though Reznikov has declared zero tolerance for corruption and acknowledged that wartime defense procurement reforms are needed, he still refuses to release information on the army’s price contracts on food and secret equipment, Nikolov said.

During his press conference, Reznikov emphasized that he could not release sensitive military information during martial law because it could be used by the enemy. “We have to balance public control and keep certain procurement procedures secret,” he said.

Two deputies down

However, two of his deputies have already fired him for corruption in secret procurement deals.

Deputy Defense Minister Vacheslav Shapovalov, who oversaw logistical support for the army, resigned in January following a scandal involving the purchase of military rations at inflated prices. In his resignation letter, Shapovalov was asked to be fired “so as not to threaten the stable supply of the armed forces of Ukraine as a result of a campaign of allegations related to the procurement of food services.”

Another former deputy of Reznikov, Bohdan Khmelnytskyi, who until December managed defense procurement at the ministry, was arrested on charges of lobbying to buy 3,000 substandard bulletproof vests for the army worth more than 100 million hryvnias (€2.5 million). , reports the Security Service of Ukraine. If convicted, he faces up to eight years in prison. Authorities have identified the director of a company that supplied bulletproof vests under the illegal contract as a suspect and could face up to 12 years in prison if convicted.

Both the former officials can be released on bail.

Another unnamed defense ministry official, a non-staff adviser to Ukraine’s deputy defense minister, has also been identified as a suspect in the alleged embezzlement of 1.7 billion hryvnias (€43 million) from the defense budget, the General Prosecutor’s Office of Ukraine said.

Asked about corruption cases against former workers, Reznikov stressed that people should be considered innocent until proven guilty.

Reputational risk

At a press conference on Sunday, Reznikov claimed that while at the Defense Ministry, he managed to restructure it, introduce competition in food supplies and fill empty stocks.

However, he admitted that the anti-corruption department of the ministry has completely failed. He argued that the situation in the department was so unsatisfactory that the National Agency for Prevention of Corruption ordered him to conduct an official audit of employees. And it shows that the department needs to be restructured.

“In a closed meeting with watchdogs and investigative journalists, I proposed to assign people to their reloaded anti-corruption department. We also agreed to create a public anti-corruption council within the Ministry of Defense,” Reznikov said.

Nikolov was one of the watchdogs who attended the closed meeting. He said the minister did not bring any invoice or receipt of food items for the army or any revised contract price in the meeting. Moreover, the minister termed the demand to publish the prices of eggs or potatoes as “an absurdity” and said the prices should not be published, Nikolov said in a statement. Overpriced eggs were a feature of inflated catering contracts that particularly attracted public attention.

Reznikov instead suggested creating an advisory body with the public. He will also hold meetings and working groups and has promised to issue invoices upon request, the journalist added.

“So far, it seems that the head of state, Zelensky, has lost patience with the behavior of his staff, but some of his staff do not want to leave their comfort zone and are trying to leave some corruption options for themselves for the future. Nikolov said.

Reznikov was not personally accused of any wrongdoing by law enforcement agencies.

But the minister admitted that his team and communications suffered reputational damage. “It’s reputational damage today, it must be recognized and learned from,” he said. At the same time, he believed he had nothing to be ashamed of: “My conscience is absolutely clear,” he said.