Ukraine official 'sacked for exposing government fraud'

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The Independent Online

A Ukranian law enforcement official claims he was fired because his investigations into a multi-million pound fraud and money laundering scheme showed the money had been used to fund the election campaign of the country's president.

Oleksiy Donskiy held the rank of captain in the investigation branch of the Ukrainian Prosecutor's department in Kiev. The job combines the role of detective and lawyer to gather evidence for prosecutions.

He contacted The Independent after the newspaper printed a series of articles showing that the Ukrainian General Prosecutor's office sat on evidence which linked the 2000 murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze to President Leonid Kuchma's administration.

Leaked documents showed members of the secret police followed Gongadze, who was campaigning against government corruption, and may have been involved in his abduction.

Opposition political parties and some senior law enforcement officials believe the General Prosecutor, Henadiy Vasilyev, who was appointed by Mr Kuchma, was put in place to control the murder investigation.

Mr Donskiy said that in 2000 he was looking into allegations that Ukraine's state oil and gas company, Naftohaz Ukrayiny, had illegally siphoned off £20m.

The allegation was one of many connected to the company, whose chief, Ihor Bakai, owed his position to Mr Kuchma. Naftohaz was accused of fraudulently making millions of pounds by stealing Russian gas transiting through Ukrainian pipelines or selling on the Russian gas paid for by the Ukrainian state budget.

Mr Donskiy traced payments made by Naftohaz to accounts in the US, Belgium, Latvia and Israel, and he believed he had uncovered a network of illegal payments and money laundering run by Ukrainian officials.

The money was sent to foreign accounts via a Ukrainian bank, Ukrhazbank, on behalf of companies registered in the names of people whose passports had been stolen, who were homeless, or who claimed they knew nothing of the accounts registered in their names.

Mr Donskiy ordered a search of the Ukrhazbank's premises and documents and uncovered evidence that three foreign bank accounts involved in channelling funds were controlled by Mr Bakai. He also believed much of the money ended up in Mr Kuchma's 1999 campaign funds for re-election as president.

Mr Donskiy was warned by some of his superiors to stay away from the case and documents seized from the bank were ordered returned. Thereafter, Mr Donskiy secretly copied documents relating to his investigations.

Mr Donskiy believes that after he persisted in his investigation Mr Bakai pressed the General Prosecutor's office to eliminate his post. He was told he could have a low-ranking job or he could resign. Mr Donskiy refused and was fired. His appeal against dismissal is being dealt with by a Kiev court.

Mr Donskiy, 26, has passed over the documents in the fraud case to a parliamentary committee on corruption. He said: "When I first began working for the Prosecutor's department I was idealistic. But then I began to realise that our superiors were interested in gathering information that could be used for their own political ends."

He said that investigators are routinely tasked with impossibly large case loads so that they can be criticised or fired for falling behind in work if they continue with cases that are inconvenient to corrupt officials. He said real efforts are made to solve ordinary murders but those with political connotations, such as the Gongadze killing, are seldom resolved.

Mr Donskiy said Mr Vasilyev has introduced a policy of sacking anyone who questions the legitimacy of instructions from the top. Mr Donskiy added that some of his former colleagues have warned him that his life may be at risk. He said: "I'm not doing this to be a hero but I want to make public what I know.We are approaching a situation where the General Prosecutor's office is becoming an instrument under the control of our mafia and corrupt officials."

Hryhoriy Omelchenko, a member of the parliamentary committee on fighting corruption and organised crime, said: "Huge sums of money were appropriated by a small bunch of bandits at the highest echelons of the state."

He believes that if an opposition candidate wins the next presidential elections, those officials, including possibly Mr Kuchma, could face prosecution.

Mr Omelchenko said he had taken precautions to try to prevent Mr Donskiy "ending up as another of the many corpses in cases involving high-placed financial misdoings".

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