Ukraine lawmakers back anti-graft disclosure rule, but with loophole

Ukraine's President Zelenskiy attends a session of the parliament in Kyiv

By Dan Peleschuk

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian lawmakers voted on Tuesday to restore a requirement that officials declare their assets, a measure sought by the International Monetary Fund, but included a loophole critics say dampens its effect.

The mandatory disclosures were introduced in 2016 but were made optional and restricted from public view after Russia's full-scale invasion last year because they were considered a security risk.

The IMF had singled out the return of the requirement as one of several benchmarks for paying out part of a $15.6 billion assistance package.

Fighting graft is also a requirement for Ukrainian accession to the European Union and President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's government has declared it a priority alongside the war effort.

Parliament approved a version of the measure requiring officials to declare their assets, lawmaker Yaroslav Zheleznyak said, but keeping the disclosures sealed off from the public for another year.

Anti-graft campaigners say keeping the registry closed defeats the primary purpose of the declarations, a key pro-transparency reform introduced after the 2014 Maidan revolution.

"The hidden fortunes of deputies and officials will destroy the trust of Ukrainians. Honest officials have nothing to hide," the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a leading Ukrainian NGO, said in a statement.

"The desire to hide one's property from the public only indicates a desire to steal public money."

The head of Zelenskiy's own party called the bill "an incredible disappointment". It now goes to the president for approval, and supporters of the reform have urged him to veto it.

Before early 2022, public servants from municipal deputies to the president had been required to submit detailed annual declarations including information on personal finances, cars and property.

The National Agency for Corruption Prevention, a state watchdog, reviews the declarations and can launch legal action if it suspects ill-gotten wealth.

Ukrainian investigative journalists have regularly reported alleged instances, including during wartime, of lawmakers and other officials owning lavish homes and driving flashy cars.

A June opinion poll commissioned by Transparency International found that 77% of Ukrainians believed corruption was among Ukraine's most serious problems.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alison Williams)