Ukraine will release Bochkovsky for lack of evidence

Screen grab of video showing arrest of officials Serhiy Bochkovsky and Vasyl Stoyetsky on Wednesday 25 March 2015 Image copyright AP
Image caption The arrests were made live on TV on Wednesday

A senior Ukrainian official arrested two days ago as part of an anti-corruption crackdown is to be released for lack of evidence.

The head of Ukraine's state emergencies service, Serhiy Bochkovsky, and his deputy were led away in handcuffs from a televised cabinet meeting.

They were suspected of devising kickback schemes involving procurement contracts.

Local media say that Mr Bochkovsky will be released on Saturday.

The dramatic arrests of Mr Bochkovsky and his deputy Vasyl Stoyetsky in the middle of a cabinet meeting were broadcast live on TV on Wednesday.

Under pressure

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said that the men had stolen from "people and the state" while the country was at war.

But after only two days in detention, a judge in Kiev ordered the release of Mr Bochkovsky because the prosecution had not provided sufficient evidence that a crime had been committed.

Analysis: David Stern, BBC News, Kiev

Serhiy Bochkovsky is not yet a free man. Ukraine's Interior Minister, Arsen Avakov, said new evidence will be examined on Saturday, which could in fact prolong his detention.

But the prospect that law enforcement officials initially provided insufficient evidence is still a worrying sign.

And if Mr Bochkovsky and his first deputy are in fact released, it will deal a heavy blow to the government's reputation, and to its anti-corruption campaign, which launched with such great fanfare.

Already a number of eyebrows were raised at the high-profile way in which the two men's arrests were carried out: At a cabinet meeting and on live television, no less.

Many people asked if this was more sound and fury, and questioned the government's seriousness. If the two men walk free on Saturday, then these questions will grow even louder.

Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is under pressure from Western lenders to prove that he is cleaning up government finances, as Ukraine has been plagued by high-level corruption since independence in 1991.

Last month the International Monetary Fund agreed a $17.5bn (£11.5bn) loan to Ukraine as part of a new economic reform programme. Western loans to Ukraine total $40bn, spread over four years.

Off-shore accounts

On Wednesday, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov said he was dismissing all regional heads of the emergencies service as part of a crackdown on high-level corruption.

He explained that they were suspected of diverting money to a Jersey-based offshore company in a corrupt scheme. Speaking on Ukrainian TV, he even showed printouts of what appeared to be card statements.

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Media captionUkrainian TV showed a policeman putting handcuffs on Serhiy Bochkovsky

The two arrests came only hours after Ukraine's president sacked a powerful regional governor, Ihor Kolomoisky.

The billionaire had been running the key industrial region of Dnipropetrovsk and had financed armed volunteers to fight pro-Russian separatists in the east. He had been vying with President Petro Poroshenko for control of the Ukrnafta energy company.

Another senior official, the head of state-run Southwestern Railways Oleksiy Kryvopishyn, was also sacked on Wednesday. The railway company is Ukraine's second-largest, mainly serving central areas including Kiev.