Five Ukrainian government officials were arrested this weekend on charges they skimmed more than $40 million in funds earmarked for purchasing 100,000 mortar shells.
Members of the defense ministry conspired with members of a Ukrainian arms firm to embezzle the money. The incident only adds fuel to the fire that the Biden administration needs to give a more complete accounting of where the $48 billion in military aid and another $60 billion in economic and humanitarian aid have gone.
The embezzled funds have been seized and returned to the defense budget.
The accusations say the five defense officials organized the payment to Lviv Arsenal, a defense contract firm, for the delivery of artillery shells. The shells never arrived. Instead, the funds were transferred to accounts belonging to the defense officials and members of the arms company.
Corruption has been a longstanding issue in Ukraine, with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy winning election on an anti-graft campaign even before Russia’s invasion in 2022.
This fall, however, an advisor to Zelenskyy said the government had suffered “reputational damage” on the world stage for its sluggish efforts to battle corruption.
One aide to Zelensky told Time Magazine in October that “People are stealing like there’s no tomorrow.”
Meanwhile, Ukraine’s efforts to push back Russia’s invasion have largely stalled. A Ukrainian counteroffensive has achieved a few slim victories, but has failed to achieve a major breakthrough against Russian lines.
Ukraine is the second most corrupt nation in Europe behind Russia. It ranks 116/180 on Transparency.org of the most corrupt countries in the world. While the $40 million embezzled by Ukrainian defense officials was not part of the U.S. aid package, it’s indicative of how easily money can get “lost” in the pipeline.
And why are we just hearing about this case now? The Washington Post reports that the details of the embezzlement were known last summer.
Ukraine’s government swears they’re doing better. Given how poor their record is, we should hope that would be the case.
But in a case where the U.S. is giving Ukraine $100 billion, is it too much to ask the president to try to keep a closer eye on where that money is going?