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article imageUkraine's anti-graft agency targets interior minister's son

By Dmitry ZAKS (AFP)     Oct 31, 2017 in World

Ukrainian anti-corruption investigators on Tuesday searched the home of the interior minister's son in an embezzlement case allegedly involving the close ally of President Petro Poroshenko.

The decision by the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to target Interior Minister Arsen Avakov's family prompted a furious outcry from the nation's police force.

It is also set to test the limits of a graft-fighting agency whose work is backed by Ukraine's Western allies but resisted by powerful vested interests in the former Soviet state.

NABU said in a Facebook post that the searches concerned "the possible embezzlement of state funds during the purchase of backpacks by the interior ministry".

Avakov confirmed to the Ukrainska Pravda news site that NABU detectives "came to my son to conduct a search".

An AFP reporter in the western city of Kharkiv saw a residence of Avakov's son Oleksandr searched by detectives while a police force called to the scene looked on.

Video footage published by several Ukrainian news sites later showed Oleksandr himself being detained in Kiev by NABU investigators.

Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov has assailed the country's recently created anti-corru...
Ukrainian interior minister Arsen Avakov has assailed the country's recently created anti-corruption agency

A source at the bureau told the news site that Oleksandr was suspected of embezzlement and "obtaining assets through abuse of power or authority".

He was due to be sent to a Kiev court for a preliminary hearing at an undisclosed time.

Ukrainian media reports said the case involved a 2015 contract worth 14.5 million hryvnias ($540,000 at current exchange rates) awarded to a company allegedly linked to Avakov's son.

Oleksandr reportedly owns a Kharkiv-based company called Investor whose assets include a small bank.

- 'War' against politicians -

The interior ministry unleashed a torrent of criticism against the graft-fighting agency's actions in a statement released after the searches in Kiev were confirmed.

"The interior ministry considers NABU's actions grounded in politics rather than the law," the ministry said on its website.

"The interior minister notes that a hybrid war is being waged in Ukraine that is meant to discredit politicians and officials."

But the president's office refrained from weighing in on the high-profile case.

NABU has faced stiff resistance since its creation in December 2015 from institutions such as the general prosecutor's office and the Security Service of Ukraine.

Until this month Poroshenko himself had resisted the idea of backing up NABU's investigations with the help of an anti-corruption court.

On October 20 he promised to launch the independent judicial body next year.

Ukraine ranked 131st out of 176 countries assessed by Transparency International's corruption perception index in 2016.

Engrained corruption was one of the factors behind a 2014 pro-EU revolution in Kiev that ousted Ukraine's Russian-backed regime.

A new but much smaller wave of anti-graft rallies hit Kiev again this month.

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