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Mykola Solsky promises ‘maximum openness’ in probe into illegal acquisition of state-owned land.

Ukraine’s agriculture minister has been made a suspect in a corruption probe.

Agriculture Minister Mykola Solsky pledged on Tuesday his full cooperation with Kyiv’s anticorruption agency as it investigates the illegal acquisition of state-owned land.

The case is the first against a minister under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. The post of agriculture minister is particularly sensitive given Kyiv’s efforts to maintain its massive grain exports – a vital economic pillar – in the face of Russia’s invasion.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) said it had uncovered a scheme led by a current minister to illegally acquire state-owned land worth 291 million hryvnia ($7.36m).

It did not name Solsky, but in its statement said the suspect was the former chairman of the parliamentary agrarian committee. Solsky held the post before becoming a minister.

The statement said the scheme also involved an additional attempt to acquire land worth 190 million hryvnia ($4.81m).

In a statement on the Telegram messaging app, the minister said the allegations pertain to a period in 2017-2018 when he worked as a lawyer in a dispute between state-owned enterprises and individuals.

“I guarantee maximum openness to establish the truth, but there is no need for this – all data is open to law enforcement, and the evidence and arguments of the parties are being considered by the courts,” Solsky said.

Destroying documents

NABU alleges that Solsky led a group that expropriated farmland in the northeastern Sumy region between 2017 and 2021 by destroying documents that showed two state-owned companies had rights to use the land.

The group then got a state agency to transfer the rights to individuals connected to them under the guise of a government scheme for the use of agricultural plots, NABU said.

Solsky, who owned a number of farming businesses, was elected to Ukraine’s parliament in 2019 and was appointed agriculture minister in March 2022.

If confirmed, Solsky would be the first known government minister under President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to be named as a suspect in a corruption case.

The reports come amid mounting speculation about an impending government reshuffle.

Several cases of corruption have emerged in Ukraine since Russia’s invasion in February 2022, although they have typically involved lower-level officials and been related to army procurement.

Kyiv has pledged to accelerate a crackdown on corruption as it strives for membership of the European Union.

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