Ukraine drops corruption probe into interior minister's son

KIEV: Ukraine has dropped a probe into alleged embezzlement of state funds by the interior minister's son, prosecutors said Thursday, in a case widely seen as a test of the pro-Western country's commitment to tackling high-level graft.

Oleksandr Avakov, the 30-year-old son of powerful Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, had been under formal investigation along with a former deputy interior minister over alleged embezzlement through a state contract worth more than half a million dollars.

The Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office said it had ceased its investigation into the younger Avakov and former deputy interior minister Sergiy Chebotar for "lack of evidence".

The recently created National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU), which detained Avakov in a high-profile raid last year, slammed the decision in a statement, calling it "unclear and inconsistent".

It said that in April its detectives had confirmed with prosecutors that they had "all the evidence" for the case to go ahead.

The NABU was set up in 2015 to combat rampant corruption but has faced strong resistance from the state structures it is supposed to be cleaning up.

Ukrainian media reported the case involved a 2015 contract worth 14.5 million hryvnias (RM2.23 million at current exchange rates) awarded to a company allegedly linked to Avakov.

Prosecutors said a third arrested suspect had taken the blame for the embezzlement and would still face criminal prosecution.

Avakov's lawyer Andriy Fedur told journalists that "the prosecutors made a wise decision" and claimed the case was "purely political".

Reformist MP Sergiy Leshchenko condemned the prosecutors' decision as "the revenge of thieves".

NABU investigators detained Avakov in October 2017 after they searched his home in the eastern Ukranian city of Kharkiv.

NABU said the searches concerned "the possible embezzlement of state funds during the purchase of backpacks by the interior ministry".

Avakov was released from custody but had to relinquish his passport and wear an electronic bracelet.

The interior ministry unleashed a torrent of criticism against the graft-fighting agency over the case, saying on its website that the investigation was "grounded in politics rather than the law."

Ukraine ranked 130 out of 180 countries assessed by Transparency International's corruption perception index in 2017.

Ingrained corruption was one of the factors behind a 2014 pro-EU revolution in Kiev that ousted Ukraine's Russian-backed government. — AFP