Corruption in Ukraine is not exactly a fresh news story, but I don’t think most people understand the depths of the problem.
As President Petro Poroshenko pleads with the Trump administration for aid and weapons under pressure from the Russian bear, it seems the machinery of government below him is engaged in an orgy of illegal activity. The picture is one better suited to 1920s Chicago than to a developing country in Europe, particularly one demanding Western largesse and support.
In May, two dozen heads of regional tax administrations employed under ousted President Viktor Yanukovych were detained and flown to the international airport in Kyiv and then transferred to the domestic airport by helicopter in a big, expensive show produced for the television cameras. The showy event was the culmination of a campaign by Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko to highlight the successes of his agency. The spectacle was arranged by Chief Military Prosecutor Anatoly Matios. It is interesting to note the case had nothing to do with military affairs and should have been beyond Mr. Matios‘ purview. The reason this is important becomes clear later.
The suspects were charged with severe crimes against the Ukrainian people, essentially embezzling money to enrich themselves. One of those detained was the ex-head of the State Tax Administration of the Kharkiv region, Stanislav Denisyuk.
But now, 20 of the suspects have already been released. Anti-corruption watchdogs in Ukraine charge that the military prosecutor used intermediaries to extort money from the detainees, easing the way for their quick release.
Mr. Denisyuk’s case is interesting because he was dismissed from his position due to a staff reduction and suspended from his duties during the period in which the alleged crimes took place. It seems his real crime was becoming aware of corruption in the activities of those above him at the time — yes, you guessed it, Mr. Matios.
Mr. Denisyuk’s family tells me they have been asked to pay $2 million to settle his case and obtain his release. They say they have audio recordings of the offer in which Mr. Matios and Mr. Lutsenko are mentioned as the offer is being made through an intermediary. Mr. Denisyuk’s family paid $200,000 to investigate the case and appealed to the Ukrainian inspector general. The status of the money at this point is unknown. Mr. Denisyuk remains in prison. The intermediary was not detained and was even allowed to leave the country.
The military prosecutor’s office in Ukraine is supposed to be investigating war crimes. In reality, these cases seem uninteresting to these officials.
There’s the case of Mark Paslovsky, an American citizen who was fighting with the Donbass Battalion during the initial years of the conflict with Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine. He gave $300,000 of his own money to buy drones to assist in the fight, but the equipment was never purchased. Mr. Paslovsky demanded the money back and was subsequently killed in a battle two days later in 2014. His business property in Ukraine was allegedly stolen after his death. The case remains unresolved.
Mr. Matios’ position also remains a mystery. As a member of the disgraced Yanukovych regime, he was allowed to stay in government, perhaps owing to his wealth and importance to other officials in the Ukrainian government. He is alleged to control large financial flows which, again, are beyond the responsibility of the military prosecutor’s office.
The bottom line is that the persistent corruption endemic to Soviet times has not been rooted out of Ukraine after a quarter-century of independence. In many ways, the situation is worse under Mr. Poroshenko than it was during the Yanukovych regime. Perhaps international organizations should make sure that significant progress is made cleaning up the situation before more hard-earned tax dollars are spent to support the Poroshenko government. This is not too much to ask.
• L. Todd Wood is a former special operations helicopter pilot and Wall Street debt trader, and has contributed to Fox Business, The Moscow Times, National Review, the New York Post and many other publications. He can be reached through his website, LToddWood.com.
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