Ukrainian Economy Minister Aivaras Abromavicius on February 4 withdrew from the fray caused by his resignation a day earlier, absenting himself on sick leave as the country's leaders scrambled to assure the public and Ukraine's Western backers that his corruption allegations against top officials will be fully investigated.
The scandal that erupted with the minister's announcement threatens to discredit and derail Ukraine's reform programme and imperil the release of billions of dollars in aid from foreign lending institutions.
After the ambassadors of nine Western countries expressed "deep disappointment" at the developments in a statement, President Petro Poroshenko met on February 4 with the G7 country ambassadors to discuss the the fate of the government and reforms, the head of the EU Delegation to Ukraine, Ambassador Jan Tombinski said, UNIAN news agency reported
Poroshenko also met the previous day with Lithuanian-born Abromavicius, a former investment banker and one of the driving forces of Ukraine's economic reforms, to persuade him to stay in office while his claims are investigated.
"The sooner the public gets answers to the raised questions the better," Poroshenko commented after the meeting.
"I guarantee further support [to Abromavicius]. I believe that Aivaras should remain in office and continue reforms. He's departed [after a meeting with Poroshenko] to mull it," the president wrote on his official Facebook page.
In the most public attack yet by an insider on corruption within the government, Abromavicius cited pressure on him to appoint associates of the president's circle to head state enterprises. He also stressed that he was unable to work with the first deputy head of the Petro Poroshenko Bloc in parliament, Ihor Kononenko, who he blamed for much of the problem. Kononenko is regarded as a 'grey cardinal' on the Ukrainian political scene for his leading role in unofficial negotiations with other parliamentary factions.
In addition, three deputies of Abromavicius - Yulia Klymenko, Maksym Nefyodov and Natalia Mykolska - followed their boss in announcing their intention to resign.
Klymenko said she fully supported each statement on the matter issued by Abromavicius during his press conference, "not because I'm his deputy, but because I'm a responsible citizen and patriot of Ukraine ... This is an absolutely thoughtful and pragmatic decision."
According to Poroshenko, cases of corruption and wrongdoing claimed by the minister should by investigated by the Anti-Corruption Bureau, the country's main anti-corruption institution. The bureau was officially created in April 2015, but was not operational until the end of the year due to top-level inability to select and appoint a head of the existing anti-corruption department at the Prosecutor General's Office.
"Kononenko made contact with the bureau and said he is ready to cooperate with it," the president said. "This was confirmed by the bureau's heads. And the sooner the public gets answers to the raised questions the better."
In statement published the same day, the Anti-Corruption Bureau said it had started a pre-trial probe into the claims. The information was included in the state register of pre-trial investigations with pre-legal qualification of an offense under the Criminal Code's article, which regards abuse of power or misuse of office.
In recent months, the bureau announced dozens of pre-trial probes into possible wrongdoing conducted by Ukrainian high-level officials and lawmakers. However, none of the cases made it to court, casting doubt on the effectiveness on the new organisation.
Kononenko confirmed that he filed an official request to the Bureau and said he will insist that it "investigate this issue as soon as possible", the politician told journalists in parliament on February 4. "I am sick of groundless accusations," he added.
Later, the media office of the Poroshenko Bloc said Kononenko had decided to suspend his function of first deputy head of Poroshenko's faction in parliament during the investigation started by the Bureau. He also "proposed and insisted" on taking a lie detector test together with Abromavicius.
"Redistribution of assets"
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk told a cabinet meeting on February 3 that "the fuss that has taken place in the past year aimed at discrediting the government and particular members of the cabinet supported by me and our faction [the People's Front] is about one thing only - the redistribution of assets and the assumption of power".
Yatsenyuk said he appreciated the position of those who, under political pressure, were forced to write the resignation letter. "But I am convinced that we have overcome too much [to stop now] and, amid recent developments, the resignation means fleeing from the battlefield when we must continue our fight," his media office quoted him as saying.
The prime minister, whose team has a conflictual relationship with the presidential administration, also said he will demand investigations into any incidence of abuse, corruption and political pressure to commit acts of corruption.
"We will address to the Bureau and all anti-corruption bodies that have to investigate and prosecute all those responsible," the statement added.
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