While much of the media attention remains glued to Russia for various reasons, a more notable development took place in neighboring Ukraine overnight, where on Friday Ukrainian state agencies tried to arrest the head of the tax and customs service Roman Nasirov, i.e., the equivalent to the head of the IRS, over the embezzlement of around $75 million. However, their efforts were hindered when the man, Roman Nasirov, was allegedly struck by a heart attack during the detention attempt and was shown stretchered into an ambulance and taken to Kiev's Feofania hospital late on Thursday.
Anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky said investigators believe 38-year-old Nasirov helped exiled lawmaker Oleksandr Onishchenko deprive the state of 2 billion hryvnias ($75 million) in tax revenue linked to a gas deal, Reuters reports. The crackdown was seen as a landmark case following patchy anti-graft efforts from the Western-backed authorities.
"Detectives and a prosecutor went to Feofania," Kholodnytsky said on television channel 112. "Nasirov was notified of the allegation by a detective. I will find out if he was conscious or not." Nasirov has previously denied all allegations of graft against him. His office would not immediately comment on the matter.
Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman said Nasirov had been relieved of his duties while the case is pending. "It is in our interest that the investigation be impartial and effective. This issue is very important for Ukrainian society today," he said in a government meeting.
Meanwhile, Nasirov's theatrical performance did not receive high marks: Ukraine prosecutor Kholodnytsky was openly skeptical about Nasirov's sudden hospitalization. "I, like many Ukrainian citizens, have doubts about the unexpected transfer to hospital, as this has become a historic tradition for the Ukrainian political elite and top management." He cited the example of a former transport minister who in 2008 was found by investigators in a hospital after they sought to detain him on corruption charges.
If Nasirov is found guilty, it would be the first successful prosecution of a senior official for graft since the 2014 uprising that ushered in a Western-backed leadership promising to tackle endemic corruption. Ukraine has been accused of Wastern overseers of taking no measures to crack down on sprawling crony capitalism and embezzlement inside the country.
"This is the destruction of the unwritten corrupt status quo in the country," said pro-European lawmaker Serhiy Leshchenko in a post on Facebook. "Nasirov will be a valuable witness to the misuse of state money by those in the highest ranks."
Stop-start reforms over the past three years have raised concerns that Ukraine's political elite lacked the will to eradicate a deep-rooted system of cronyism and bribe-taking. Nasirov's lawyer, Andriy Kuzmenko, confirmed that he was being investigated for embezzlement and said he could face up to six years in prison.
Opposition lawmakers and the finance ministry have previously called for Nasirov to be investigated for abuse of office. In 2016, Nasirov clashed with an activist appointed to reform the graft-plagued customs of Odessa over her accusation that he had blocked her attempts to fire corrupt officials.
In an online wealth declaration tool aimed at boosting transparency, he disclosed last October that he and his wife held cash in euros and dollars worth $2.2 million and owned Swiss watches, diamond jewelry, fur coats and fine porcelain among other items. He told Reuters in an interview he had earned this money in the financial sector before taking office.