Ukraine authorities expose piles of cash in Supreme Court corruption probe

Senate Ukraine Caucus meeting in Washington

(Reuters) - Ukrainian anti-graft authorities said on Monday they were investigating large-scale corruption in the country's Supreme Court system and shared a photograph of piles of dollars neatly lined up on a sofa.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) did not name anyone accused of corruption, but two local media organizations reported Supreme Court Chief Justice Vsevolod Kniaziev had been detained on suspicion of receiving a $3 million bribe.

Reuters could not independently verify the reports.

The country's anti-graft authorities displayed the photograph on its Facebook page, which said the discovery followed investigations by NABU and the office of the Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor (SAP).

"NABU and SAP have exposed large-scale corruption in the Supreme Court, namely a scheme for the leadership and judges of the Supreme Court to receive bribes," the bureau said in the post. "Emergency investigative actions are under way."

Brussels has made fighting corruption a precondition for Kyiv to join the 27-member European Union. Despite progress in recent years, Ukraine ranks 116th out of 180 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index.

Dzerkalo Tyzhnia, a local news website, and online outlet Ukrayinska Pravda both quoted unnamed officials saying Kniaziev had been detained without providing further details.

Reuters was not immediately able to contact Kniaziev for comment after normal business hours.

Dzerkalo Tyzhnia quoted its source as saying the money came from backers of Ukrainian billionaire Kostyantyn Zhevago, who was arrested in France in December at Kyiv's request in relation to embezzlement charges.

The businessman told the court he did nothing wrong and should not be extradited.

The money had come from supporters of a court decision in April that favored pellet producer Ferrexpo Plc, Dzerkalo Tyzhnia quoted its source as saying. It said another 18 Supreme Court judges who heard the Ferrexpo case were now being searched.

The case addressed a repurchase of about 40.2% of shares in the company's Ukraine subsidiary, Ferrexpo Poltava Mining, which was sold to Zhevago and other parties.

(Reporting by Elaine Monaghan; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)