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article imageUkraine court frees interior minister's son in graft case

By AFP     Nov 1, 2017 in World

A Kiev court on Wednesday released from detention the powerful interior minister's son in an embezzlement case seen as a test of Ukraine's commitment to tackling corruption in the highest echelons of power.

Tuesday's arrest of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov's son Oleksandr sparked rumours of furious infighting among both the ruling elite and the Western-backed coalition now cautiously steering reforms through parliament.

The charges could see the 29-year-old and his two co-defendants jailed for up to 12 years if convicted of "embezzling, waisting or obtaining assets through abuse of power".

Ukraine's nascent National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) detained Oleksandr in Kiev and searched his home in the western city of Kharkiv on Tuesday in one of its highest-profile raids to date.

But Kiev's refused to remand Oleksandr in prison and instead ordered him to wear an electronic monitor and report to a judge if he wants to leave the Ukrainian capital.

"I believe this case is completely politically motivated and has nothing to do with the rule of law," Oleksandr told the court after being let out of a glass cage in which he was placed at the start of proceedings.

The high-stakes case revolves around a 2015 government contract for the purchase of military backpacks that was awarded to a company controlled by Oleksandr's friend and co-defendant Volodymyr Lytvyn.

NABU believes Lytvyn's company sold the bags at inflated prices that cost the state 14 million hryvnias ($520,000 at current exchange rates).

The bureau's prosecutors accuse Oleksandr of being the middleman who illegally steered the deal toward his friend.

The sums involved are minor compared with other instances of state corruption that have littered Ukraine's post-Soviet history.

But they have created a backlash from Avakov's People's Front party and put renewed pressure on NABU.

The People's Front and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko's own bloc hold a slender majority in parliament that allows them to push ahead with institutional changes prescribed by the International Monetary Fund.

But Kiev media report frequent squabbles between Avakov and Poroshenko that threaten to splinter the ruling coalition and lead to early elections.

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