A Kyiv court set bail Monday for the former head of Ukraine’s tax service who had recently been named a suspect in a major corruption case involving the embezzlement of approximately $74 million.
The case against Roman Nasirov is seen by some as the first real test of the country’s new National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU).Nasirov’s bail has been set at $3.7 million.If he doessn’t pay he’ll be held in pre-trial detention for two months.
“The case is unique as it is first time since independence of Ukraine when such a high official in office is being charged for corruption,” said Daria Kaleniuk, executive director of Ukraine’s Anti-Corruption Action Center.
“The state fiscal service for decades used to be a source for dirty cash and after revolution of dignity remains probably the most unreformed agency in Ukraine,” Kaleniuk said in reference to 2014’s Maidan Revolution.
She said that NABU’s willingness to issue a warrant for Nasirov shows that they are serious about prosecuting officials for corruption even if they are close to the president.
On Sunday, civil activists gathered outside the courthouse due to fears that Nasirov, who claimed to have had a heart attack after being removed from his post, might be released without being charged. The protesters brought tents and vowed to camp outside the courthouse in order to prevent Nasirov’s release.
Maxim Eristavi, a fellow with the Atlantic Council, was present at the demonstration on Sunday night. Like Kaleniuk, he, too, said the case is a historic precedent and “the most important development in post-Maidan Ukraine.”
“The first major anti-corruption arrest, first major case for newly created NABU, and the first time such a close ally of [Ukraine President Petro] Poroshenko is facing jail time,” Eristavi said.
According to Eristavi, the possibility of Nasirov’s being released also showed the massive problem of an unreformed justice system in Ukraine.
He described the crowd outside the courthouse as reminiscent of what he experienced three years ago on Maidan. “All familiar faces, key anti-corruption fighters, reformists, independent journalists,” he said.
“Leftists and far-rights, queer people shoulder to shoulder with homophobes. All feuds were on pause because the crowd shared the feeling that this the key moment for the future of the country. Remarkable unity,” Eristavi said.
Nasirov’s legal team of nine attorneys is currently appealing the charges.
Pre-trial investigation is expected to be completed in May.
Jim Kovpak is an American writer who recently moved from Moscow to Kyiv, and who runs the Russia Without BS blog.