The arrest over the weekend of Ihor Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine’s richest men, has been seen as a sign of Ukrainian authorities’ drive to root out corruption and curb the influence of oligarchs.
A court in Kyiv on Saturday ordered Mr. Kolomoisky held in pretrial detention for two months while authorities investigate fraud and money laundering charges against him. Mr. Kolomoisky’s bail was set at nearly $14 million, which his lawyers said he would not pay, adding that they would appeal the ruling, according to Ukrainian news media.
Mr. Kolomoisky’s arrest came a day before President Volodymyr Zelensky said he was replacing his defense minister, Oleksii Reznikov, as the Defense Ministry faces investigations into the mishandling of military contracts. Mr. Reznikov has not been personally implicated in the inquiries.
Ukraine has been stepping up its efforts to combat corruption as it tries to assuage concerns among Western allies that wartime aid could be siphoned off for personal gain. The anti-graft efforts are also part of Ukraine’s case for closer integration with — and ultimately membership in — the European Union.
With a fortune of $1.67 billion, Mr. Kolomoisky was ranked Ukraine’s fifth-richest person in a recent report by the Kyiv-based Center for Economic Strategy. His business interests have included oil and banking, and he was once considered a patron of Mr. Zelensky, a former comedian whose popular shows were broadcast on Mr. Kolomoisky’s television channel before he successfully ran for the presidency.
Suspicions of corruption and embezzlement have dogged Mr. Kolomoisky for years. In 2017, he left Ukraine for Switzerland and Israel after the government of then-President Petro O. Poroshenko seized a bank he co-owned and accused him of a large-scale fraud that threatened to destabilize Ukraine’s economy.
He returned in 2019 after Mr. Zelensky’s defeat of Mr. Poroshenko, raising fears that his ties to the new president would help him regain his economic and political clout.
But efforts by the government — including Mr. Zelensky, who campaigned on fighting corruption and the oligarchs’ malign influence — have impeded Mr. Kolomoisky’s ability to assert himself. In 2020, Ukraine’s Parliament passed an anti-corruption bill that prohibits the state from returning nationalized banks to their former owners, which seemed to take direct aim at Mr. Kolomoisky.
A year later, the United States placed sanctions on Mr. Kolomoisky, saying he had used a position as a regional governor for his personal benefit and engaged in “ongoing efforts to undermine Ukraine’s democratic processes and institutions.”
Russia’s full-scale invasion last year further affected Mr. Kolomoisky’s interests. Shortly after the war began, Russian forces destroyed an oil refinery in Kremenchuk that was controlled by one of his companies. This year, the Ukrainian government nationalized that oil company and another connected to him, citing what it described as a need to secure key supplies.
On Sunday, after Mr. Kolomoisky was placed in pretrial detention, Ukraine’s state security service said in a statement that Mr. Kolomoisky had laundered more than half a billion Ukrainian hryvnias, or about $14 million, by transferring funds abroad between 2013 and 2020 through banks under his control.
Despite efforts to crack down on corruption, Mr. Zelensky’s administration has continued to be plagued by scandals, including in the procurement of food for the military. Just last month, Mr. Zelensky ordered the dismissal of the directors of the country’s regional recruiting centers, citing accusations that officers were enriching themselves through draft evasion schemes.
In an apparent reference to Mr. Kolomoisky’s case, Mr. Zelensky in his nightly address on Saturday thanked the police “for their determination to bring every case stalled for decades to a just conclusion.”