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Ukraine nabs top state executive and ex-premier ally for graft

KIEV, April 21, 2017 (BSS/AFP) - Ukraine's stuttering fight against high-level corruption gathered pace Friday as a top state energy executive was detained a day after the arrest of a close ally of former premier Arseniy Yatsenyuk.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) nabbed Naftogaz state deputy board chairman Sergiy Pereloma on embezzlement allegations as part of a probe that also saw parliament's former energy committee chairman Mykola Martynenko detained.

Martynenko was picked up on Thursday and could face up to 12 years in prison for allegedly embezzling $17.28 million (16.12 million euros) from Europe's largest -- and Ukraine's only -- uranium extraction and processing plant.

The powerful ex-member of Yatsenyuk's political party is accused of
syphoning off the money and parking it in an offshore account while
overseeing the purchase of uranium concentrate from Kazakhstan by Ukraine's Eastern Mining and Enrichment Combine.

The deputy gave up his parliament seat under pressure in November 2015.

Yatsenyuk himself quit in April 2016 after a tumultuous spell that saw several respected technocrats who rose to power after Ukraine's 2014 pro-EU revolution resign over rampant graft.

Martynenko and Pereloma are being held in temporary detention while their cases come up for initial review.

Strengthening Ukraine's anti-corruption bureau was one of the top demands of the International Monetary Fund connected to a $17.5 billion rescue
package for Ukraine in 2015.

The IMF and Western governments have been expressing increasing concern that Ukraine was refusing to combat graft that helped lead to the downfall of Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych in February 2014.

NABU was established in 2014 but its first detectives did not get to work until December of the following year.

Its headquarter were raided by prosecutors in 2016 in what NABU believes was an attempt by remnants of the old guard to halt its investigations into the upper echelons of power.

The former Soviet republic is 131st of 176 countries and territories on a 2016 Transparency International index where they are ranked from least to most corrupt.