Last week in Odesa, as in the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, there was a surge in corruption investigations and arrests of public officials in the regional, local and customs agency and administrations. It is a positive sign of change towards a better law enforcement in Ukraine and less tolerance towards bribes.

Corruption on regional land

On Feb. 2, the Investigative Service of Ukraine (SBU) arrested an official of the Odesa regional administration allegedly in the throes of receiving a $40,000 bribe in a parking lot near the public administration building in Odesa. This was the first tranche of a bribe of $60,000 that the defendant is believed to have extorted from representatives of a company, to which he had promised the assignment of plots of land in Reni on the bank of the Danube with an area of about four hectares.

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The prosecutor confirmed that the suspect is a deputy head of one of the departments of the regional administration for agricultural policies, food and relations with the land. According to the local newspaper Dumskaya, this is 46-year-old Sergei Chukhriy, who until 2013 worked in the State Service for Combating Economic Crime of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine.

Based on Article 368 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (obtaining unlawful advantages by an official) the official faces 12 years in prison.

Customs agency of Odesa Port

On Feb. 3, officials of the "Odesa-port" and "Bilhorod-Dnistrovsky" customs were investigated for organizing a corruption scheme to extort money from volunteers of a charitable fund, who bring humanitarian aid in Ukraine.

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For bribes, officials promised not to create obstacles for volunteers during the customs clearance of the cargo. The customs officer stated that his services would cost between $500 and $700 for each loaded car. SBU inspectors documented several cases of handing over cash payments totaling $1,200.

Law enforcement officers arrested the customs officer immediately after receiving the second part of the bribe, based on article 368 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine (acceptance of an offer, promise or receipt of an illegal benefit from an official). The arrested person is the chief state inspector of customs at the "Port of Odessa".

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Small Town Council

On Jan. 25, 2023, NABU and SAPO announced that the president and a deputy of a city council of a city in the Odesa region had been caught in the act while receiving $50,000 the day before.

According to the investigation, the two elected officials had asked for $100,000 to promote the lease of 2.5 hectares of municipal property for warehouses. After receiving the first tranche of $50,000, the culprits were exposed and arrested.

"The Stew Deal"

An investigative action was initiated on Jan. 5 against the Deputy Chairman of the Odesa regional military administration Oleg Muratov, Director of the Regional Finance Department Marina Zinchenko, and a number of other persons, including the Chief of the National Police Ivan Vyhivsky, accused of embezzling 7 million Hr. ($190,000) on a contract for the purchase of food products.

According to the National Police Main Investigation Department, the investigation reveals that "to ensure the urgent needs of the population under martial law", the Odesa region has allocated 500 million Hr. ($13.5m) for the purchase of food and over 106 million Hr. ($2.9m) more for the purchase of special equipment and military uniforms for territorial defense units and volunteer formations.

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But, according to the report, “instead of directing the funds allocated by the Ukrainian government to the needs of the local population and the military, officials of the regional military administration developed a scheme for their appropriation: they bought goods at prices significantly higher than market prices, and the difference has been distributed among all participants in the transaction.”

Criminal proceedings are being instigated for embezzlement and abuse of office, which carry a prison sentence of seven to 12 years with the deprivation of the right to hold certain positions or exercise certain activities for up to three years and with confiscation of assets.

Oleg Muratov had offered $35,000 to the head of one department of the regional administration to avoid criminal liability for embezzlement of state property. He had also tried to use acquaintances in the police service to get his support. SBU officers detained Muratov in the public building of the regional administration, while handing him part of a bribe of $27,000.

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After his release from the pre-trial detention center on 3,220,800 Hr. ($87,400) bail, on Jan. 9, Muratov was dismissed from the post of deputy head of the Odessa regional military administration by its head, Maksym Marchenko.

By order of the head of the Odesa regional military administration Maxim Marchenko No. 6/K-2023 dated 10/01/2023, Muratov Oleg Mikhailovich was dismissed from the post of deputy chairman of the Odesa regional state administration on Jan. 10, 2023,” says the document.

Bribes on generators in Odesa

On Jan. 5, SBU agents exposed a large-scale extortion scheme at the Odesa customs post, where not even generators could enter Ukraine without paying bribes.

Customs officers, according to operational data, took money from everyone who transported goods across the border. This is confirmed by searches of the customs administrative building. The investigators of the SBU discovered the money deposits of the customs officers. It turns out the inspectors had "earned" more than 65,000 Hr. ($1,700) in just a few hours. The money was hidden under baseboards, in computer equipment, heaters, waste paper, and even the toilet.

During the special operation, under the procedural supervision of the prosecutor's office of the Odesa region, an Odesa customs inspector was detained demanding a "fee" from the importer for the unhindered import of generators and household appliances into Ukraine, despite the fact that generators currently have preferential customs clearance conditions.

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The State Bureau of Investigation arrested the inspector "red-handed" after receiving the money.

In a short time, the investigation documented the actions of the customs official who received bribes of several thousand US dollars. Such "services" are estimated to be worth 50 percent of official customs payments. The suspect risks a prison sentence of up to 10 years with confiscation of assets.

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