US ambassador slams Ukraine over corruption

FILE - In this file photo dated Aug. 16, 2016, Ukraine's Anti-Corruption Prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky speaks to The Associated Press in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, Aug. 16, 2016. In a speech Tuesday March 5, 2019, U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch has called on Kiev to replace senior anti-corruption official Kholodnytsky. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky, FILE)

KIEV, Ukraine — The U.S. ambassador to Kiev directed unusually scathing criticism at the Ukrainian government in remarks released Wednesday, urging authorities to replace a senior anti-corruption official and tackle the country's corruption problem.

In a speech Tuesday, Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch said the government's efforts have "not yet resulted in the anti-corruption or rule of law reforms that Ukrainians expect or deserve." In the surprisingly blunt remarks, which were released Wednesday, the ambassador called on Ukrainian officials to fire the special anti-corruption prosecutor, Nazar Kholodnytsky, who has been accused of helping suspects avoid corruption charges.

"Nobody who has been recorded coaching suspects on how to avoid corruption charges can be trusted to prosecute those very same cases," she said, referring to recent wiretaps that allegedly caught on tape Kholodnytsky giving advice to corruption suspects.

In late February, Ukraine's Constitutional Court struck down a law against officials enriching themselves, raising concerns about the Ukrainian government's resolve to fight endemic corruption.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau issued a statement Wednesday saying that court ruling has forced it to close all 65 criminal inquiries it was pursuing into illegal enrichment, including a high-profile case against the mayor of the port city Odessa.

Ukrainian media also published an investigation last week into alleged embezzlement schemes in the country's military industry. The report alleged that members of President Poroshenko's inner circle were involved in the embezzlement.

Referring to that scandal, Yavonovitch called for a complete audit of a state-owned military procurement company and greater transparency for defense contracts.

Ukraine's new government pledged to fight corruption when it came into power five years ago, and had set up several anti-corruption bodies. But corruption is still rampant in Ukraine.

The ambassador's critical remarks appear to be timed to coincide with a visit by U.S. Under Secretary of State David Hale, who arrives in Kiev on Wednesday to discuss the country's progress in fighting corruption among other things.

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