Anti-graft chief insists Ukraine turning corner on graft
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The head of Ukraine's anti-corruption agency insisted Friday that the Russian invasion had triggered a substantial and "irreversible" fall in graft in what has long been one of Europe's most corrupt countries.
Ukraine's war effort largely depends on EU and US support and, fearing any loss of this vital aid, the country is seeking to reassure its allies in the wake of a series of public embezzlement scandals, resignations and arrests.
"During the first months of the war, we saw that corruption had practically disappeared," Oleksandr Novikov, head of the National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAPC), told AFP in an interview.
But after the initial shock of the February 24 invasion, "some have returned to old ways", admitted Novikov, a former prosecutor who has headed the NAPC for three years.
Nevertheless, he was adamant that the country was now making an "irreversible" move away from corrupt practices of the past.
"NATO and EU standards will require us to change state policies to leave no room for corruption," he told AFP.
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"Millions of Ukrainians have (also) experienced living in the EU," he said.
"I am sure that after our victory, almost all will return and therefore Ukrainians who lived in countries with a low level of corruption... will no longer be able to tolerate any kind of criminal corrupt practices," he added.
At a summit with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Friday, the EU said Ukraine had made "considerable efforts" towards advancing towards membership of the 27-member bloc but urged Kyiv to implement more reforms.
'Getting over corruption'
EU leaders granted candidate status to Ukraine in June last year, but the path to full membership is long and Brussels is making the fight against graft a condition.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen on Thursday praised recent anti-corruption efforts after arriving in Ukraine's capital Kyiv.
Ukraine expanded its anti-corruption efforts this week by raiding the residences of an oligarch and a former interior minister.
Senior defence ministry officials have also been visited by investigators, a week after a series of senior officials were sacked in a corruption case involving army supplies, the first major scandal since the Russian invasion.
These cases show "that Ukraine is getting over corruption", Novikov insisted.
A survey sponsored by US development agency USAID in mid-2022 said 29 percent of Ukrainians believe that corruption in their country is down, compared to only four percent the previous year.
In addition, 64 percent said neither they nor their family had been confronted with corruption in the last 12 months, compared to 43 percent a year earlier.
Novikov's agency said it received 1,300 complaints about alleged corruption in 2021 compared to 4,500 the year before.
The share of the population ready to report cases of corruption has almost doubled, from 44 percent to 84 percent, the USAID survey found.
The number of Ukrainians saying bribes are "never justified" rose from 40 percent in 2021 to 64 percent the following year, the survey found.
"A colossal shift in public awareness has taken place," Novikov said, claiming that the war has created an unprecedented solidarity among Ukrainians and trust in their leaders.
"When you trust the state and you perceive it as your own, you no longer tolerate any violation on its part."
The country, however, languishes at 116 out of 180 on the 2022 Corruption Perceptions index -- one point up from the previous year.
Novikov said Ukraine's corruption-related financial losses were estimated at seven billion euros ($7.6 billion) per year in 2020.
"Most of these losses were related to the tax and customs sectors. Since then, no considerable changes have been made," he said.
By contrast, his agency had found "no major violations in the use of Western aid".
If there had been violations concerning humanitarian assistance, they were not "significant or systemic", he said.
Novikov urged the government to reinstate the online publication of state officials' declared assets, suspended for the duration of the war.
"These instruments must be restored, and only then will our partners be sure that their aid is being used correctly," Novikov added.