Ukraine detains Oligarch accused of fraud, money laundering

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Ukrainian business tycoon and one of the country's most prominent billionaires Ihor Kolomoisky arrives at court in Kyiv, Ukraine, Sept 2, 2023. [Reuters]

One of Ukraine's richest men was taken into custody Saturday on suspicion of fraud and money laundering.

Ihor Kolomoisky's arrest comes as Kyiv is trying to show progress in its wartime crackdown on corruption.

A Ukrainian court set Kolomoisky's bail at $14 million, but his defense lawyers said he would not post bail, broadcaster Radio Liberty reported; instead he will remain in custody for two months while he appeals the ruling, whose legality he questions.

Kolomoisky was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2021 “due to his involvement in significant corruption.” The U.S. suspects that Kolomoisky and a partner laundered money through the United States, which Kolomoisky denies.

He supported then-candidate Volodymyr Zelenskyy during the 2019 presidential elections in Ukraine.

In his nightly video address Saturday, President Zelenskyy thanked "Ukrainian law enforcement officials for their resolve in bringing to a just outcome each and every one of the cases that have been hindered for decades."

Zelenskyy has made it a priority to crush graft and illicit financial dealings among officials and well-connected businessmen. Kolomoisky, one of Ukraine's billionaire oligarchs, is the most prominent figure to have become a target. Zelenskyy is moving to equate wartime corruption with treason.

The White House has noted the progress Ukraine has made in combatting graft and in safeguarding the autonomy of crucial government institutions.

In a meeting with a delegation of the heads of Ukrainian anti-corruption institutions Friday, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan underscored the vital importance of independent, impartial law enforcement and judicial institutions to any democratic society. He also reiterated Washington's steadfast support for anti-corruption reforms in Ukraine and "for Ukraine's brave defense of its democracy against Russian aggression."

'We are on the move'

Zelenskyy touted Ukraine's steady advances against Russian forces Saturday and derided Western criticism of Ukraine's grinding counteroffensive.

"Ukrainian forces are moving forward. Despite everything, and no matter what anyone says, we are advancing, and that is the most important thing. We are on the move," Zelenskyy wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

His comments come amid U.S. concerns about the slow pace of the operation and Western reports questioning Ukrainian strategy in the three-month counteroffensive.

Ukrainian forces have retaken about a dozen villages but no major settlements. Their advances are being impeded by myriad Russian minefields and subsequent defensive lines.

John Kirby, National Security Council coordinator, told reporters Friday that Ukraine made “notable progress” in the southern Zaporizhzhia region, though he cautioned it “is not beyond the realm of the possible that Russia will react” to Ukraine's push.

Ukrainian troops advance

In its daily battlefield update, the Ukrainian military reported no new breakthroughs but said its troops broke through Russia's outer defense perimeter and continued to advance toward Melitopol, a major Russian-occupied urban center in the Zaporizhzhia region.

Ukrainian Deputy Defense Minister Hanna Maliar acknowledged Friday that Kyiv's troops, who have been trudging through heavily mined areas for almost three months, had now run into major defensive Russian fortifications.

"Where we have already moved to the next line ... the enemy is much more fortified there and, in addition to the mining, we also see concrete fortifications, for example, under the main commanding heights, and our armed forces have to overcome a lot of obstacles in order to move forward," she said.

Kirby noted that Ukrainians are aware there are tough battles ahead and added that detractors of the Ukrainian counteroffensive are not “helpful to the overarching effort to make sure that Ukraine can succeed, and they are.”

Russia says it thwarts attack

Russia said early Saturday it had thwarted a naval drone attack on a bridge that links the Russian mainland with the Crimean Peninsula.

In messages posted to Telegram, the Russian Defense Ministry said three semisubmersible unmanned boats, "sent by the Kyiv regime to carry out a terrorist attack on the Crimean bridge" were destroyed in the Black Sea — one late Friday and two early Saturday.

The bridge was built after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Completed in 2018, the bridge has been targeted throughout Russia's invasion of Ukraine, including an attack in July that caused major damage to the bridge and killed two people.

Grain deal talks scheduled

Two cargo vessels have sailed from Ukraine's Black Sea ports despite fears of Russian attacks, maritime officials said Saturday.

Ukraine's infrastructure minister says the Anna-Theresa, a Liberian-flagged bulk carrier carrying 56,000 metric tons of pig iron, left the Ukrainian port of Yuzhny on Friday. A second vessel, the Ocean Courtesy, left the same port with 172,000 metric tons of iron ore concentrate.

The minister said the vessels sailed through a temporary corridor for civilian ships from Ukraine's Black Sea ports to the Bosporus. The ships are using the interim corridor established by Ukraine's government after Russia quit the Black Sea Grain Initiative, a wartime agreement aimed at ensuring safe grain exports from Ukraine.

On Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin is scheduled to hold talks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the Black Sea resort of Sochi. According to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, the talks are part of an effort to revive the U.N.-brokered Black Sea grain deal.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met Friday with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu in Moscow to discuss grain exports ahead of the Erdogan-Putin meeting.

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