Ukraine suspends defence official amid corruption probe


Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov says a senior official has been suspended over graft.
Ukraine’s Defence Minister Rustem Umerov says a senior official has been suspended over graft.

Ukrainian Defence Minister Rustem Umerov has suspended a senior official while authorities investigate suspected corruption in the procurement of weapons, his ministry says.

Umerov took office last year on a pledge to clean up graft inside the ministry as Ukraine’s allies weighed sending more military aid to the country following Russia’s full-scale invasion in 2022.

Toomas Nakhkur, who led the defence ministry’s department for technical policy and weapons development, was suspended after being named an official suspect in an unspecified criminal case, the ministry wrote on the Telegram messaging app.

The decision took effect on February 1, it said.

The Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) said last week it had uncovered a scheme by current and former officials as well as businessmen to embezzle about $US40 million ($A61 million) by securing advance payment for artillery shells that were never provided.

The SBU did not name the suspects but Ukrainian media identified Nakhkur as one of them.

He could not immediately be reached for comment.

Umerov’s predecessor was dismissed last September following several corruption scandals at the defence ministry even though he had strong relations with Ukraine’s allies.

Meanwhile, a Ukrainian intelligence official said Russia has refused Ukrainian requests to hand over the bodies of prisoners of war whom the Kremlin says were killed in the Ukrainian downing of a Russian military plane.

Andrii Yusov in televised remarks reaffirmed Ukraine’s call for an international probe into the January 24 crash inside Russia that would determine whether the Il-76 transport carried weapons or passengers along with the crew.

Russia accused Ukraine of killing its own men while Ukraine dismisses Russia’s assertions as “rampant Russian propaganda”.

Ukraine has neither confirmed nor denied that its forces shot the plane down and Russia’s claim the crash killed Ukrainian PoWs could not be independently verified. 

Wreckage of a Russian military transport plane
Russian officials say 74 people on board were killed when a military plane was shot down. (AP PHOTO)

Ukrainian officials state Russia did not ask for any specific stretch of airspace to be kept safe for a certain length of time, as it has for past PoW exchanges.

A French military official told the Associated Press that the country’s military concluded that Ukrainian forces used a battery of Patriot surface-to-air missiles to shoot down the Il-76, firing from about 50km away.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to divulge the intelligence findings, said the Ukrainian battery apparently managed to stay hidden while getting closer to the target and then switched on its radar “just long enough to hit them”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday that the Kremlin had not received a Ukrainian request to hand over the bodies. 

Asked if Russia would be willing to hand them over, he later told reporters that the official investigation into the incident was continuing and it would be up to Russian law enforcement agencies to consider such a request.

President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia would not only welcome but would “insist” on an international inquiry into the plane’s downing that he described as a “crime” by Ukraine.

Russia’s Investigative Committee, the main state criminal investigation agency, said on Thursday its probe of the crash found that the Il-76 was brought down by one of the US-made Patriot air defence systems which the US, Germany and the Netherlands have supplied to Ukraine. 

Russian officials said there were 74 people on board, including 65 Ukrainian PoWs, six crew members and three Russian servicemen. 

All were reported killed when the plane hit the ground and exploded in a giant fireball in the Belgorod region near Ukraine.

The Investigative Committee said investigators have found more than 670 body fragments and identified all of the crash victims.

The committee said it also has recovered 116 pieces of two missiles that were fired from a Patriot system from near the village of Lyptsi in Ukraine’s Kharkiv region.

It showed a video that purported to show some missile fragments lying in the snow with visible markings.

Ukraine previously claimed credit for a May 2023 cross-border strike with Patriot missiles.

with AP