- Ukraine pledged to crack down on corruption
- Tackling the graft is vital in the EU accession bid
- Kyiv fights corruption despite the Russian invasion
KIEV (Reuters) – The head of Ukraine’s Supreme Court was sacked on Tuesday after being detained in a bribery investigation that anti-corruption authorities described as their biggest ever.
Kiev has redoubled its efforts to crack down on corruption despite the Russian invasion, and doing so is vital to meeting the terms of accession to the European Union.
Oleksandr Omelchenko, a prosecutor at the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office (SAPO), said the Supreme Court judge was detained as part of a suspected bribery scheme and was awaiting an official “notification of suspicion”.
Omelchenko did not name the judge but the court has so far been presided over by Supreme Court Chief Justice Vsevolod Knyazev, who could not immediately be reached for comment.
“At this time, the chief justice of the Supreme Court has been arrested and measures are being taken to check the involvement of other individuals in criminal activity,” Omelchenko said in a joint statement with Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau.
Hours later, an emergency session of the full Supreme Court voted of no confidence in Knyazev and then voted to remove him as chief justice. Another judicial body would be responsible for stripping him of his status as a judge.
NABU announced Monday that anti-corruption agencies are investigating widespread corruption in the Supreme Court system, and shared a photo of stacks of dollars neatly lined up on a sofa.
In a statement, NABU said the Chief Justice is accused of taking a $2.7 million bribe. The head of the agency, Semen Krivonos, said in a briefing on Tuesday that it is the most high-profile case among the Ukrainian agencies fighting corruption.
He said, “We are showing through real cases and real actions what our priority is: It’s big corruption, it’s criminal organizations at the highest levels of power.”
Krivonos said the bribe was paid for a ruling in favor of Finance and Credit Finance Group, which is owned by prominent businessman Konstantin Zhivago, and may be part of a broader scheme to pressure the court. Zhivago has denied any wrongdoing.
(Reporting by Dan Belichuk; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
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