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Investigative Stories From Ukraine: Journalists allege that key state agency controlled by unofficial boss

by Daniil Ukhorskiy and Anna Myroniuk December 19, 2023 6:53 PM 6 min read
Vadym Hrona, a businessman previously employed by Ukraine’s Agency for Investigation and Management of Assets (ARMA), is seen entering the agency’s Kyiv office. According to investigative outlet Bihus.Info, he is the agency’s unofficial curator, who pays visits daily using a keycard reserved for employees. (Credit: Bihus.Info)
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Kyiv Independent’s exclusive

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Italian firm Danieli aids Russian war machine

Italian steel giant Danieli had contributed to Russian steel production since 2014, when Russia first invaded Ukriane, and continued doing business with Russia after the all-out war broke out in 2022, a joint investigation by Follow The Money and Kyiv Independent found.

Russian companies that Danieli could have preserved ties with after the full-scale invasion produce steel for Russian weapons. Among them could be Severstal and Magnitogorsk Iron and Steel Works (MMK), the owners of which are under international sanctions.

Danieli Corus, the Dutch branch of the Italian Danieli Group, shipped a furnace cooling element to Severstal on Aug.10, 2022, half a year into the full-scale invasion, according to the data from ImportGenius, obtained by journalists.

Danieli Corus moved forward with the supply being well aware that the company’s owner was subject to the European Union sanctions, according to a lawyer whom Danieli sought advice from prior to the shipment.

The Severstal plant produces steel used in the making of AK-100 Kalashnikov machine guns and Kalibr cruise missiles, among other weapons Russia extensively uses in its war against Ukriane, according to the Russian independent media Proekt.

Follow The Money and the Kyiv Independent also tracked down Danieli’s Russian client base through Russian import data, publicly available press releases, LinkedIn profiles, publications in Russian and Italian media, interviews with those involved, and internal documentation from Danieli.

According to the journalist investigation, the company has worked with at least 14 Russian metal companies since 2014, most of which are major steel producers and processors.

Danieli has an office in Russia. In April 2023, over a year into the all-out war, Danieli said it would leave Russia. Over half a year later, it hasn’t.

Read the full story in English here.

Top investigative stories

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Journalists allege that key government agency controlled by unofficial boss

A businessman and former advisor to the head of Ukraine’s Agency for Investigation and Management of Assets, known by its Ukrainian acronym ARMA, appears to still have a top role in the agency unofficially, according to an investigation by Ukrainian media outlet Bihus.Info.

ARMA is responsible for managing assets seized from people under indictment, generally accused of corruption, until a final decision is reached as to their guilt or innocence. ARMA is a controversial agency, having been embroiled in scandals that led to a member of parliament calling for its dissolution in February 2023.

In November and December, Bihus.Info filmed Vadym Hrona, a businessman previously employed by ARMA who resigned from his position in October, entering the office daily with a keycard reserved for employees. Moreover, journalists captured Hrona on fim entering the office with Duma or arriving in her office car.

According to the journalist investigation, based on conversations with employees and leaked CCTV footage, Hrona gives instructions to ARMA staff even though he is not officially employed there. According to Bihus.Info, this raises concerns that Hrona is a behind-the-scenes “puppetmaster” curating the agency for senior politicians.

CCTV footage also shows that Hrona punched Vladislav Romanov, an ARMA employee who was dismissed following the incident, while Hrona, who had already resigned from the agency, faced no repercussions. Romanov told Bihus.Info that Hrona threatened his life after Romanov’s refusal to carry out Hrona’s instructions.

Responding to allegations, ARMA told Bihus.Info that Hrona appears in meetings as a member of the agency’s public anti-corruption council. According to Bihus.Info, this position does not make Hrona an agency employee or allow free access to its offices. The council has only met once, not explaining Hrona’s daily visits to the agency.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian with English subtitles here.

General Staff of Ukraine’s Armed Forces splurges on extravagant items

The General Staff of the Armed Forces of Ukraine spent Hr 10 million ($270,000) on various expensive and frivolous items, including a thousand-dollar chess set, crystal tableware, and 21 Apple Watches, according to an investigation by Ukrainian media outlet Slidstvo.Info.

Some items were reportedly purchased at inflated prices. For example, an Orthodox icon bought for Hr 13,400 ($360) is listed on the store’s website at Hr 2,900 ($78), according to Slidstvo.Info.

The General Staff is the government agency within the defense ministry responsible for the operational management of Ukraine’s armed forces.

The General Staff did not respond to the journalists’ questions about the reason for purchasing extravagant items.

Read the full story in Ukrainian here.

Ex-minister convicted for corruption expanded his business empire while under investigation

Mykola Zlochevskyi, who served as minister of ecology under pro-Russian fugitive president Viktor Yanukovych, expanded his business empire while facing corruption charges, according to an investigation by Ukrainska Pravda.

Among other business exploits, Zlochevskyi founded Burisma, a scandal-ridden company that once counted Hunter Biden, son of U.S. President Joe Biden, as one of its board members.

A previous investigation by Ukrainska Pravda revealed that in May 2023, Zlochevskyi reached a deal with anti-corruption prosecutors, which saw him pay up to Hr 660 million ($17.7 million) as a donation to the military and an Hr 68,000 ($1,800) fine and admit his guilt of attempting the largest bribe to date in 2020. The decision, which was kept secret, saw Zlochevskyi get no jail time.

While under investigation in the bribery case, Zlochevskyi, his family, or known associates acquired up to $18 million worth of property in Kyiv.

In March 2023, Ukrainian law enforcement opened another investigation into a Zlochevskyi-owned gas company and froze its assets. According to the journalist investigation, authorities unfroze gas company assets just two days after Zlochevskyi donated millions to the military, raising concerns of a possible quid-pro-quo.

According to Ukrainska Pravda, the fact that Zlochevskyi’s immense wealth continued to grow while under investigation and after his conviction raises questions as to whether the prosecution deal amounted to little more than a slap on the wrist.

Watch the full story in Ukrainian here.

Impact

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Ukrainian law enforcement search Spanish villa belonging to indicted Odesa official

The State Bureau of Investigation (SBI), Ukraine’s law enforcement agency that investigates crimes committed by government officials, announced that it had searched the Spanish villa of Yevhen Borysov, former head of Odesa’s military commission suspected of corruption.

Borysov was removed from office and detained on suspicion of abuse of office and illicit enrichment in July 2023.

In June 2023, an investigation by Ukrainska Pravda revealed that Borysov owned real estate and cars worth almost $5 million near Marbella, in southern Spain. According to Ukrainska Pravda, the crown jewel of Borysov’s Spanish holdings was a villa worth $3.3 million.

The raid by the SBI carried out in Spain alongside local law enforcement confirmed that Borysov was the owner of the villa. Documents recovered by the SBI also show that Borysov owns seven real estate objects in the Odesa oblast and six cars.

MP charged with violating travel ban following journalist investigation

The Prosecutor General of Ukraine initiated criminal proceedings against Oleksandr Kunytskyi, a member of parliament from President Volodymyr Zelensky’s Servant of the People party following a journalist investigation that revealed he violated travel restrictions.

Since January 2023, Ukrainian officials and lawmakers have been permitted to travel abroad only under a narrow set of circumstances that will apply for as long as Ukraine is under martial law. Authorities have already investigated other members of parliament for violating travel restrictions.

An investigation by Schemes, a Radio Liberty/Radio Free Europe project, showed that while Kunytskyi received permission to travel to Israel on a short trip, he flew to a Florida airport and exceeded his travel permission by more than two weeks.

Meanwhile, in Russia

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Journalists reveal Russian spy working in Ukraine just before full-scale invasion

Leaked documents obtained by the Dossier Center, a Russian independent media outlet in exile, reveal the names and operations of agents tasked with destabilizing and attacking Ukraine.

The journalist investigation focused on two agents, Viktor Lukovenko and his curator, Denis Smolyaninov. According to the leaks, both men work for Russia’s military intelligence service, best known under its Russian acronym GRU.

GRU is known for conducting attacks and operations abroad, including the poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in the UK in 2018.

Lukovenko, a Russian nationalist and convicted murderer, was recruited by Smolyaninov, Dossier Center reported citing the documents they obtained.

According to the leaks, Lukovenko was sent to Ukraine in 2022 to track down and possibly assassinate a Kazakh activist who fled to Ukraine after being persecuted by pro-Russian authorities in Kazakhstan.

The documents show that Lukovenko was also meant to recruit Russian sympathizers in Ukraine but was quickly outed to Ukrainian security forces and had to flee to Transnistria, a Russian-backed separatist region of Moldova.

According to the journalist investigation, Smolyaninov had been working on Ukraine since 2014, when he participated in recruiting militants to fight for Russia in eastern Ukraine.

The Dossier Center reached out to Smolyaninov, posing as a police officer with Lukovenko in detention for a petty crime. Smolyaninov confirmed that Lukovenko is a GRU agent and that he operated in Ukraine just before the start of the full-scale invasion.

Watch the full story in Russian with English subtitles here.

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