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Tuesday, February 7, 2023

Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Defense Ministry allegedly buys food supplies for military at inflated prices

by Anna MyroniukJanuary 24, 2023 10:54 pm
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Investigative Stories from Ukraine: Defense Ministry allegedly buys food supplies for military at inflated pricesSoldiers practice during urban warfare drills on Dec. 26, 2021 in Kyiv. (Courtesy of Kyiv’s 130th Territorial Defense Brigade)

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Top investigative stories

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ZN.UA: Defense Ministry allegedly buys food supplies for military at inflated prices

Ukraine's Defense Ministry purchases some food for the military at prices that are two to three times higher than those at Kyiv grocery stores, Ukrainian newspaper ZN.UA reported on Jan. 21.

Journalists claim to have obtained a recent Defense Ministry contract for food procurement of soldiers in 2023 for the total amount of Hr 13.16 billion ($360 million). The document was concluded on Dec. 23.

According to the report, the Defense Ministry agreed to buy eggs at Hr 17 per item, while in Kyiv’s grocery stores, the price per egg is closer to Hr 7. A kilogram of potatoes to be ordered for Ukrainian soldiers costs Hr 22, while the price in grocery stores is about Hr 9, ZN.UA reported.

The publication alleges that the inflated prices indicate a possible corruption scheme.

Moreover, the contract was allegedly signed by a controversial head of the ministry’s state procurement department, Bohdan Khmelnytsky. According to ZN.UA, Khmelnytsky is being investigated for alleged embezzlement in the procurement of ammunition for the military.

On Jan. 23, Defense Minister Oleksii Reznikov came out with a statement calling the inflated prices a “technical error” of the contractor, who “made a mistake while transferring data from one table to another.”

Reznikov dismissed the investigative report as “nothing but manipulations” and promised repercussions to those who leaked the contract to journalists, adding that the Security Service will look for the alleged whistleblower.

Read more on the scandal that followed the investigation in the Impact section.

Find the original story in Ukrainian via the link.

Ukrainska Pravda: Deputy prosecutor general spends winter break in Spain, causes new ban for officials to leave Ukraine

Oleksii Symonenko, deputy prosecutor general, has spent a vacation in Marbella in Spain, according to the Ukrainska Pravda news outlet. Symonenko left Ukraine on Dec. 30 and spent 10 days abroad.

According to the outlet’s law enforcement sources, Symonenko crossed the border in a Mercedes car owned by the family of a Ukrainian businessman named Hrihoriy Kozlovsky, with Kozlovsky’s security guard as a driver.

Kozlovsky is a co-owner of Vynnyky Tobacco Factory, which has been alleged of mass production of cigarettes for the black market, and investigated for tax evasion. His family also owns Emily Resort in Lviv Oblast, the Grand Hotel in Lviv, construction companies, restaurants, and the football club Rukh.

Following the news, the National Security and Defense Council on Jan. 23 banned all top officials from traveling abroad when it’s not connected to their jobs. The ban includes heads of all public agencies, their deputies, and heads of departments, as well as judges and prosecutors.

Officially, all men of 18-60 years old are banned from leaving Ukraine during martial law. Exceptions can be requested for trips related to volunteer work, journalistic work, and other activities.

Symonenko has reportedly handed in his resignation, according to the sources of Ukrainska Pravda in law enforcement and the National Security and Defense Council.

Ukrainska Pravda: Deputy head of Zelensky’s faction secretly buys lavish house in central Kyiv amid war

Deputy head of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction, Pavlo Khalimon, secretly purchased a house in downtown Kyiv and registered it under his alleged girlfriend, Ukrainska Pravda media outlet reported on Jan. 23.

The deal took place in June 2022. The house and land plot sold for $270,000, five to six times cheaper than the asking prices for similar houses nearby, the journalists found out.

According to the investigation, Khalimon tried to hide the purchase by registering the house as the property of Anastasiia Kotelenets, who the journalists allege is his girlfriend.

The journalists filmed Khalimon entering and leaving the house multiple times.

A year earlier, Kotelenets bought 45 land plots, including a few from a former business partner of Khalimon. The woman’s Facebook page says that she works at a lingerie company.

In February 2022, the National Agency on Corruption Prevention said it was looking into Khalimon’s asset declaration in connection to his lifestyle.

In 2020, Khalimon was involved in a corruption scandal.

RFE/RL published recordings of Khalimon, deputy head of the parliamentary committee on agrarian and land policy, allegedly negotiating potential cooperation with an agrarian businessman, who later accused the lawmaker of extorting a bribe.

A probe was eventually opened into Khalimon’s alleged corruption – but only after some public tension. Initial reports said that then-Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova was refusing to open the case, drawing accusations that Venediktova was protecting Zelensky’s party’s lawmakers.

This time, the report cost Khalimon his job as the deputy head of the Servant of the People parliamentary faction.

Head of Servant of the People parliamentary faction, David Arakhamia, said that he would dismiss Khalimon because the purchase of the lavish house amid war “contradicts our values.” He also called upon law enforcement agencies to start an investigation into the purchase.

Khalimon, however, remains a lawmaker representing Zelensky’s party in the parliament.

Find the original story in Ukrainian here.

Impact

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Parliament summons Defense Ministry leadership following corruption allegations

Ukraine’s parliamentary committee on national security, defense, and intelligence summons top Defense Ministry officials to address journalists’ allegations that the ministry is buying food for the army at inflated prices.

“Regarding purchases by the Ministry of Defense, such inflated prices are not only for food,” lawmaker Mariana Bezuhla, deputy head of the parliament's national security committee, said on Facebook.

According to Bezuhla, who represents the governing Servant of the People faction, Ukraine’s State Audit Service and law enforcement are looking into the Defense Ministry's spending.

Mykhailo Podolyak, an advisor to the head of the President’s Office, confirmed that the audit is underway.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau came out with a statement saying that an investigation is ongoing.

The bureau looks into the Defense Ministry’s procurement for possible misappropriation, embezzlement, or abuse of office.

Law enforcement investigates Ukrainian judge’s visits, undeclared real estate in Russia-occupied Crimea following Schemes’ report

Both the National Anti-Corruption Bureau and State Security Service (SBU) said they started looking into Ukrainian judge Yaroslav Vasylenko after the report by Schemes, a Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) investigative project.

The SBU investigates his reported visits to Russia-occupied Crimea, while the NABU probes Vasylenko’s alleged failure to declare his family’s real estate on the occupied peninsula and in Moscow.

Vasylenko is a judge at the Sixth Administrative Court of Appeal in Kyiv.

Learn more about this report in the previous edition of this newsletter.

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Anna Myroniuk
Anna Myroniuk
Head of investigations

Anna Myroniuk is the head of investigations at the Kyiv Independent. Anna has run investigative projects on human rights, healthcare and illicit trade. She investigated presidents and oligarchs. She has written for New York Times, Washington Post, Coda Story and OCCRP. Anna holds a Masters in Investigative Journalism from the City University of London. She is a Chevening Scholar, a finalist of the 2020 Thomson Foundation Young Journalist Award, an honoree of the 2022 Forbes 30 Under 30 Europe Media & Marketing list, the runner-up in the investigative reporting category of the 2022 European Press Prize, and the finalist of the 2022 National Investigative Journalism Award of Ukraine.

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