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Watchdog accuses presidential staffer of graft

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Agence France-Presse

A Ukrainian anti-corruption watchdog has accused a member of President Volodymyr Zelensky’s staff of bribery after the political novice vowed to tackle the country’s notoriously rampant graft.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) said it caught the official and several accomplices receiving a $150,000 (135,000 euro) bribe in a sting operation on Tuesday.

Investigators said this was half the amount of a bribe the group had solicited for securing a job at state energy giant Naftogaz.

Ukrainian media named the detained official as Svitlana Kondzelya, an employee in the presidency since 2009 who currently heads a department dealing with citizens’ requests.

Prominent Ukrainian news website Ukrainska Pravda quoted a source as saying that Kondzelya had boasted she could “solve any kind of problem through her contacts in the (president’s) office”.

The president’s Facebook page confirmed the detentions without naming the suspect.

“There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ for the head of state. Corruption must be eradicated,” it said.

Those arrested Tuesday also included a former deputy culture minister who served in 2011, the NABU statement said.

At that time Ukraine was governed by pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.

Zelensky was elected president on promises of change after he accused predecessor Petro Poroshenko of failing to curb corruption in the post-Soviet state.

While the new authorities have tightened anti-corruption legislation and launched proceedings against several senior officials, both former and current, Zelensky’s opponents accuse his team of targeting only officials with close ties to Poroshenko.

According to Transparency International, Ukraine is ranked 120th out of 180 on the NGO’s corruption perception index, faring better than Russia (in 138th place) but still falling far behind its European Union neighbours.

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