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20 Nov, 2023 17:49

Ukraine’s cyber security chief fired over corruption scandal

Officials at the data protection agency are suspected of embezzlement
Ukraine’s cyber security chief fired over corruption scandal

The Ukrainian government on Monday replaced the head of the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection of Ukraine (SSSCIP), after anti-corruption prosecutors implicated him in an embezzlement scheme.

SSSCIP head Yury Shchigol and his deputy Viktor Zhora have been dismissed and Dmitry Makovsky appointed as acting director, government spokesman Taras Melnichuk announced. The agency’s job is to secure government communications and defend the country's infrastructure from cyber attacks.

While Melnichuk did not specify the reasons for the dismissals, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) issued a statement an hour later claiming that Shchigol and Zhora had been implicated in a plot to embezzle 62 million hryvnia ($1.72 million) between 2020 and 2022.

According to NABU, six SSSCIP officials participated in procurement of software for a secure government database from two companies in a closed bidding process. The companies, which were allegedly under the control of the conspirators, sold the software at an inflated cost, billing the government 285 million hryvnia while paying 223 million to a foreign vendor.

NABU alleges that the six men transferred the 62 million difference to offshore accounts “for the purpose of legalization and distribution among members of the organized [criminal] group.”

In a statement on Monday afternoon, the SSSCIP insisted that all the purchases were “carried out in compliance with current legislation” and that its procurement process is “complex” and requires “preparation and understanding.”

The agency also confirmed Makovsky’s appointment as acting head and urged the public to refrain from accusing specific officials or employees “until the investigation is completed and the results of the investigation are given a legal assessment by a court.”

The purge at SSSCIP comes as US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin is in Kiev for an unannounced visit to send a message that Washington will “continue to stand with Ukraine.”

The US funds a lion’s share of the Ukrainian government’s budget, as well as much of its military, but the funds appropriated by Congress have almost run out and the White House is pushing the lawmakers to approve more.