A fortnight ago, the Ukrainian authorities declared that an unprecedented bribe had been intercepted by the Ukrainian law enforcement agencies. Five million dollars in cash was a price for the closure of the investigation against Mykola Zlochevsky, a founder of the Burisma company. The former ecology and natural resources minister Mr. Zlochevsky is currently residing in exile abroad. (Ironically, Burisma is an official partner of the Atlantic Council in promoting anti-corruption measures.)
Burisma Holdings Limited became known far beyond business circles due to the Trump-Ukraine scandal. Joe Biden’s son Hunter held a board seat there. Presently, the anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky rules out any possibility of involvement by the Bidens.
On June 13, the chief of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) exhibited thousands of seized Ben Franklin bills in several plastic bags. Prosecutors alleged that Mykolo Ilyashenko, first deputy head of Kyiv’s tax office handed three bags with $5 million to anti-corruption officer responsible for the probe into Burisma. Another $1 million was paid as a “commission to an intermediary”. Two officials of Ukraine’s taxation service and a legal adviser to Burisma were detained under suspicion.
Such a success in tackling corruption is unusual for Ukraine, which is rather infamous for its embezzlement scandals and corrupt public officials. That is why there is a fair amount of skepticism towards the issue.
For some political junkies it may look like another attempt to draw a picture of the Trump-Ukraine-Democrats triangle. However, this time it is hardly related to the US internal politics.
Others assume that interests of Burisma’s rivals such as DTEK company may be involved. But this version also seems groundless.
In the meantime, there is a possibility that the anti-corruption operation was preplanned, or at least prescheduled, and it was intended to be demonstrative. The demonstration could be aimed at the World Bank and the IMF. More than once, the international credit organizations expressed their concerns on corruption at all levels of Ukraine’s governmental and judicial bodies.
By coincidence, the board of Directors of the World Bank Group recently considered a new loan for Ukraine, aimed at restoring economic growth in the country during the crisis. The WB discussion on $1 billion loan took place on June 26. The Ukrainian authorities could use the $6 million affaire to gain credibility in order to guarantee the deal with the World Bank.
Earlier this month, the IMF had approved an 18-month Stand-By Arrangement for Ukraine, with total access of $5 billion. The World Bank funding is linked to the decision of the Fund’s Executive Board.
Even though the possibility of an attempt by the Ukrainian government to prove itself trustworthy cannot be excluded, sometimes Justice is just Justice. And we may see the first long-awaited battle of Ukraine’s war on corruption.
*Neil Karpenko, PhD