Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh, fresh off his allegations that the U.S. was behind the Nord Stream pipeline explosions, has published a report that alleged the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is aware of widespread corruption in Ukraine and the embezzlement of US aid.
Hersh’s report accuses the Ukrainian government of using U.S. taxpayer money to purchase diesel from Russia to fuel its military. He further suggested that Ukrainian officials are “competing” to set up front companies for export contracts to private arms dealers around the world.
The issue of corruption was raised during a meeting between CIA Director William Burns and Zelensky in January, according to the report. An intelligence official with direct knowledge of the meeting reportedly told Hersh that Burns delivered a striking message to Zelensky.
Hersh remarkably claimed: “The senior generals and government officials in Kiev were angry at what they saw as Zelensky’s greed, so Burns told the Ukrainian president, because ‘he was taking a larger share of the skim money than was going to the generals.’”
The investigative journalist lays out the scheme that is reportedly being used to profit Zelensky and Ukrainian officials: Embezzlement of U.S. aid for energy funds.
“What also is unknown is that Zelensky has been buying the fuel from Russia, the country with which it, and Washington, are at war, and the Ukrainian president and many in his entourage have been skimming untold millions from the American dollars earmarked for diesel fuel payments,” Hersh reported. “One estimate by analysts from the Central Intelligence Agency put the embezzled funds at $400 million last year, at least; another expert compared the level of corruption in Kiev as approaching that of the Afghan war, ‘although there will be no professional audit reports emerging from the Ukraine’.”
“Zelensky’s been buying discount diesel from the Russians,” one knowledgeable American intelligence official told Hersh. “And who’s paying for the gas and oil? We are. Putin and his oligarchs are making millions” on it.
While much of Hersh’s report is difficult to independently corroborate, there are details that match verifiable reporting.
As Hersh reported, “Burns also presented Zelensky with a list of thirty-five generals and senior officials whose corruption was known to the CIA and others in the American government. Zelensky responded to the American pressure ten days later by publicly dismissing ten of the most ostentatious officials on the list and doing little else.”
In January, Zelensky had undertaken a purge in the Ukrainian government and military to root out endemic public corruption.
“A major effort to root out corruption is sweeping Ukraine,” Time reported. “In recent weeks, leaders have announced the results of several major investigations, as well as firings and resignations across its government.”
“On January 24, following several prominent corruption scandals, including two major investigations involving the embezzlement of funds, President Volodymyr Zelensky announced ‘personnel decisions’ across different government ministries and within Ukrainian law enforcement,” the report continued. “Zelensky also announced that state officials would be banned from traveling internationally for non-government purposes following a report that a now-former top prosecutor vacationed in Spain despite a martial law that bans Ukrainian men ages 18 to 60 from leaving the country without permission.”
“Most recently, the effort swept up Ihor Kolomoisky, a former owner of the largest Ukrainian bank, PrivatBank, and a powerful oligarch,” the report added. “As Reuters reported, Ukrainian security services (SBU), conducted a search at Kolomoisky’s home in connection to an embezzlement investigation of Ukraine’s largest oil company and refiner, Ukrnafta and Ukrtatnafta, of which Kolomoisky owned a major stake in before the companies were seized by the Ukrainian government in November.”
The anti-corruption effort came in response to “various reports of embezzlement,” the report noted, including “accusations of stolen money intended for troops.”
Ukraine has long struggled to fight public corruption. A 2016 report by the watchdog group Transparency International found that between 38 per cent to 42 per cent of Ukrainian households said they paid bribes to access basic public services such as education or healthcare, reported Time.
Al Jazeera noted that year Ukraine was the second most corrupt nation in Europe, with Russia being the most corrupt.
Editor’s note: Seymour Hersh’s reporting can only be broadly corroborated at this point, because his accusations are attributed to an unnamed CIA source. It is worth reporting to further deeper investigation and to encourage credible independent auditing of U.S. aid to Ukraine.
Follow Kyle Becker on Twitter @kylenabecker.