On Wednesday, February 1st, Ukrainian security services raided the home of Ihor Kolomoisky, one of the country’s wealthiest residents. The raid, which comes one week after several top Ukrainian officials were forced to resign, is said to be part of Kyiv’s broader effort in fighting corruption.
President Zelensky has been engaged in an effort to address the corruption-ridden legacy of Ukraine since before the Russian invasion. Ever since Ukraine broke away from the Soviet Union in 1991, the country has been known as a hotbed of politicians, criminal leaders, and oligarchs who use illicit means to gain influence. Upon taking the presidential seat in 2019, Zelensky promised to put a stop to it.
It is a promise the president appears intent on keeping. Not only did police forces raid the home of billionaire Ihor Kolomoisky, they also targeted the residence of former Interior Minister Arsen Avakov and several Kyiv-based tax authorities.
According to Ukraine’s security service, the SBU, Ukraine’s biggest oil company, Ukrnafta, and its biggest refiner, Ukrtatnafta, have embezzled more than $1 billion. Kolomoisky, 59, who once held stakes in both firms, is therefore a person of interest. He claims to know nothing about any illegal practices having taken place.
On its Facebook page, the SBU posted photos of its raid of Kolomoisky’s residence. Dressed in a sweatsuit, he appears cooperative as SBU security service officers conduct their search. The post does not state whether Kolomoisky has been taken in for further questioning.
SBU head Vasyl Malyuk said his department, under orders from president Zelensky, was conducting “a number of large-scale operational and investigative measures aimed at fighting the internal enemy.” This enemy, he said, harms
the security of the state in various spheres: [they are] traitors of Ukraine and agents of Russian intelligence services; representatives of organized crime; officials, officials, and corrupt officials who undermine the country’s economy and the stable functioning of the defense-industrial complex.
A reason for the delay in pursuing Kolomoisky could be the fact that Zelensky owes a huge debt to the billionaire. In 2015, Zelensky vaulted to stardom through the hit television series Servant of the People, which aired on a TV channel owned by Kolomoisky’s 1+1 Media Group. In the four-year-running series, Zelenskyi plays a high school history teacher who ends up winning the presidential election after a video showing him decrying government corruption goes viral.
The show’s success served as a launching pad for Zelensky’s political career. In March 2018, members of his production company, Kvartal 95, registered a new political party called Servant of the People. Just one year later, and with Kolomoisky by his side as sponsor, the politically inexperienced actor had won the presidency.
Addressing corruption in Ukraine remains of vital concern to Kyiv, as it seeks to prove to its western benefactors that it can be trusted with its billions of euros and dollars in received aid. Even within Ukraine, there have long been concerns that these funds could end up in the wrong hands.
The timing of this latest coordinated action is no accident. On Friday, February 3rd, an EU summit is to take place in Ukraine’s capital. The summit is seen by Kyiv as crucial in its march towards membership of the union, which it seeks to accomplish within two short years.
While Kyiv was granted EU candidate status four months after Russia’s invasion, it was urged to double its efforts in combating corruption before any serious headway could be made. Any speeding up of the accession process is so far finding little support among member states.