Corrupt Ukrainian officials 'stole £32m intended for arms to fight Russia'

Responders react to a shelling in Kyiv (AFP via Getty Images)
Responders react to a shelling in Kyiv (AFP via Getty Images)

Employees from a Ukrainian arms firm conspired with defence ministry officials to embezzle almost 40 million US dollars (£31.5 million) earmarked to buy 100,000 mortar shells for the war with Russia, Ukraine's security service has said.

The SBU said late on Saturday that five people have been charged, with one detained while trying to cross the Ukrainian border. If found guilty, they face up to 12 years in prison.

The investigation comes as Kyiv attempts to crack down on corruption in a bid to speed up its membership of the European Union and Nato.

Officials from both blocs have demanded widespread anti-corruption reforms before Kyiv can join them.

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was elected on an anti-corruption platform in 2019, long before Russia's full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Both the president and his aides have portrayed the recent firings of top officials, notably that of Ivan Bakanov, former head of the State Security Service, in July 2022, as proof of their efforts to crack down on corruption.

Security officials say the current investigation dates back to August 2022, when officials signed a contract for artillery shells worth 1.5 billion hryvnias (£31 million) with arms firm Lviv Arsenal.

After receiving payment, company employees were supposed to transfer the funds to a business registered abroad, which would then deliver the ammunition to Ukraine.

However, the goods were never delivered and the money was instead sent to various accounts in Ukraine and the Balkans, investigators said.

Ukraine's prosecutor general says the funds have since been seized and will be returned to the country's defence budget.