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article imageUkrainian anti-corruption detectives raid top mayor's home

By Dmitry ZAKS (AFP)     Oct 23, 2017 in World

Ukrainian anti-corruption investigators on Monday raided the home and office of a powerful mayor at the centre of a politically charged embezzlement probe.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) said the searches were conducted at the premises of Odessa Mayor Gennadiy Trukhanov and his associates.

The Black Sea city's authorities are suspected of pocketing money from contracts assigned for repairing a highway and awarding loans that vanished but were meant to help refurbish the local airport.

"Since detectives are also checking the possibility of the Odessa mayor's involvement in these criminal offences, the searches are being held at his home and office," NABU said in a statement.

The raids came nearly a week after the start of the first sustained wave of anti-government protests in Kiev since Ukraine's 2014 pro-EU revolution deposed the Russia-backed regime of Viktor Yanukovych.

The anti-corruption rallies are currently being spearheaded by Mikheil Saakashvili -- the former Georgian president who became the regional governor of Odessa in February 2015.

Saakashvili quickly accused Trukhanov of being one of Odessa's corruption kingpins and promised to deal with him quickly.

But he soon became frustrated about his inability to tackle graft in the region and resigned last year.

Saakashvili went on to accuse President Petro Poroshenko of knowing about the criminal activity and covering it up in order to protect his political friends.

Poroshenko dismisses the charge and accuses Saakashvili of trying further to destabilise the crisis-torn country.

But the Ukrainian leader appeared to bow to a major protester demand on Friday by promising to set up a special anti-corruption court by the end of the year.

- 'Step to appease Saakashvili' -

Saakashvili said on Monday that he intended to keep the protests running until deputies return from a recess on November 7 and address other outstanding demands.

The former Georgian now leads his own Ukrainian political party that hopes to grab seats from the president's increasingly unpopular one in polls set for autumn 2019.

Some political analysts said the rallies appeared to be having an effect on Poroshenko's thinking and pushing him into making a difficult decision he had avoided since his election in May 2015.

The raids in Odessa "could be seen a step made by the authorities to appease Saakashvili," Kiev political analyst Vadym Karasyov told AFP.

"But it could also be the authorities simply trying to tell Saakashvili that they can tackle regional corruption without his help," Karasyov added.

Either line of thinking has helped NABU accelerate its fight against engrained government graft this year.

NABU this month detained a deputy defence minister and another top military official for allegedly embezzling millions in state funding through an illegal oil-purchase scheme.

It has also launched a graft case against the now-deposed tax service chief Roman Nasirov in March.

But critics say prosecuting these officials will be difficult without the launch of the anti-corruption court promised by Poroshenko on Friday.

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