Two top Ukrainian officials arrested at cabinet meeting
KYIV - Agence France-Presse
A handout picture taken and released by the Ukrainian Prime Minister press-service in Kyiv on March 25, 2015 shows a policeman reading their arrest warrant to Sergiy Bochkovsky (2nd L), director of Ukraine's emergency services ministry and his deputy Vasyl Stoyetsky (L). AFP PhotoTwo top Ukrainian officials were arrested March 25 on corruption charges and led away in handcuffs from a televised cabinet meeting as government ministers looked on.
Police detained Sergiy Bochkovsky, director of Ukraine's emergency services ministry, and his deputy Vasyl Stoyetsky, in full glare of journalists and photographers, accusing them of "high-level" corruption.
Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk issued a warning to other officials suspected of graft, with international backers in the West demanding Ukraine stamp out rampant corruption.
"This will happen to everyone who breaks the law and sneers at the Ukrainian state," Yatsenyuk said.
"When the country is at war and when we are counting every penny, they steal from people," he added.
Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said the two men were suspected of overpaying for public procurements from companies including Russian oil giant Lukoil, and syphoning the excess funds to an offshore haven.
Avakov claimed that the staged nature of the arrests was necessary "as a preventive vaccination against all those corrupt people in power, who sadly number many".
The arrests were caught on video and immediately posted on video-sharing website YouTube, sparking an instant reaction online.
Political commentator Taras Berezovets joked on Twitter that officials should start each day "by reviewing the wanted posters" on the interior ministry's website.
"It was amusing to watch the worried faces of the ministers, each of them thinking it was for them," added Ukrainian journalist Peter Shuklinov.
The arrests came hours after President Petro Poroshenko announced the dismissal of powerful oligarch Igor Kolomoisky from his post as regional governor in the key industrial region of Dnipropetrovsk, following a dispute over control of the main state oil and gas company.
Lawmaker and Kolomoisky ally Boris Filatov accused the government of behaving like a totalitarian state after Wednesday's public detentions.
"In my memory, the last time a government official was arrested live at a meeting was at North Korea's Politburo," he wrote on Facebook.
"Of course, the show arrest was a brilliant PR move after firing Kolomoisky," he added.
Ukraine's government is under pressure from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which approved a 16-billion-euro ($17.5 billion) rescue package for its war-battered economy earlier this month, to tackle oligarchs and stamp out corruption.
But the government also needs the help of influential local figures like Kolomoisky in its fight against pro-Russian separatists in the country's east.
The banking billionaire pledged his allegiance to Kiev after the ousting of Kremlin-backed president Viktor Yanukovych last year and has offered stern resistance against the rebels.
He funded a powerful volunteer militia group, even offering a 18,200-euro reward for any separatists surrendering to the authorities in his region, which borders the conflict zone.
His sacking raised fears of a deep split with Kiev, and that Dnipropetrovsk could descend into chaos, swinging the conflict in favour of the separatists.