‘Bribery is treason’: Zelensky sacks 112 army draft chiefs

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Kyiv: President Volodymyr Zelensky has broadened his battle against corruption, firing all the heads of Ukraine’s regional army recruitment centres as the war with Russia enters a critical stage.

Zelensky said a state investigation into centres across Ukraine had exposed abuses by officials ranging from illegal enrichment to transporting draft-eligible men across the border despite a wartime ban on them leaving the country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was elected on an anti-corruption pledge. Credit: Reuters

He said 112 criminal cases had been opened in a wide-ranging probe launched after a corruption scandal at a draft office in Odesa region last month. He used harsh rhetoric likely to be welcomed by Ukrainians appalled by cases of wartime corruption.

“This system should be run by people who know exactly what war is and why cynicism and bribery during war is treason,” he said, adding that those fired would be replaced by recent veterans and soldiers wounded at the front.

Ukraine has made cracking down on corruption a priority as it fends off Russia’s invasion and seeks membership of the European Union and has fired or prosecuted a string of high-ranking officials implicated in sleaze.

That has sent a signal to Western allies providing Kyiv with tens of billions of dollars in military aid that Ukraine is serious about clamping down on corruption, which has long plagued the country’s military.

Smoke rises from a fire in the aftermath of a Russian missile strike, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, this week.Credit: Zelensky Telegram/Reuters

The long-simmering issue in the draft system burst into the open last June when a media investigation was published about Odesa’s regional draft commissar Ievhen Borysov, igniting a scandal.

The investigation reported on millions of dollars’ worth of real estate and luxury vehicles allegedly owned by Borysov’s family members in Spain. Borysov denied any wrongdoing, saying he had nothing to do with what his family purchased.

After the report, Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation and its Security Service detained scores of draft board staff suspected of bribery and corruption.

The move comes at a particularly sensitive moment for Kyiv with its long-touted counter-offensive hampered by extensive Russian defences across swathes of the southeast.

Zelensky said that any sacked army recruitment officers who are not being investigated should head to the front to fight for Ukraine “if they want to keep their epaulettes and prove their dignity”.

“But let me emphasise: the army is not and never will be a substitute for criminal punishment. Officials who confused epaulettes with perks will definitely face trial,” he said in his statement.

Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have been killed or wounded in fighting since Russia invaded in February 2022.

Videos purporting to depict army recruiters aggressively pursuing or becoming violent with would-be draftees have gone viral on social media in the country, which has been under martial law since the invasion.

Zelensky said top general Valery Zaluzhny would be responsible for implementing the decision and that new candidates for the posts would first be vetted by Ukraine’s domestic security service, the SBU.

Despite recent, Ukraine still ranks 116th out of 180 countries in Transparency International’s latest Corruption Perceptions Index.

A Transparency-commissioned opinion poll in June found that 77 per cent of Ukrainians believe corruption is among Ukraine’s most serious problems.

Zelensky was elected in 2019 on a campaign pledge to stomp out corruption.

On the battlefront, Russia fired missiles at western Ukraine that killed an eight-year-old boy overnight, officials said, and drones that Russian officials blamed on the Ukrainian military targeted Moscow for a third straight day but reportedly didn’t cause significant damage.

Reuters, AP

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