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Ukrainian Bank Chief Investigated After Confrontation With RFE/RL Journalists

FILE - Yevhen Metsher, chairman of the management board at Ukreximbank, speaks during an interview in Kyiv, Ukraine, Aug. 19, 2021.

The head of a major Ukrainian state-owned bank has said he is under investigation in connection with a confrontation with RFE/RL investigative reporters during an interview this week.

Yevhen Metsher, who stepped down temporarily as Ukreximbank's CEO earlier this week, said he was handed the official notice on Thursday.

"I am ready to fully cooperate with the investigation. I am deeply confident that freedom of speech is an important element of Ukraine's development," Metsher wrote in a post to his Facebook page.

"Once more, I would like to express my sincere apologies to the journalistic community and personally to" the reporters involved.

Another suspect

A spokeswoman for the Kyiv regional prosecutor's office said the bank's chief spokesman had also been notified that he was a suspect. According to Ukrainian law, that means the two men are officially accused of a crime.

The day before, Metsher announced that he was temporarily stepping down as CEO of the bank, which serves as Ukraine's main export-import bank.

The incident took place in Metsher's office in Kyiv on Monday during an interview with reporters for Schemes (Skhemy), a joint investigative project run by RFE/RL and UA: Pershy television.

One reporter, Kyrylo Ovsyaniy, asked Metsher a question about a controversial loan given to a client.

Metsher subsequently instructed security personnel to stop the journalists and take their cameras and video materials away. Security guards forcibly seized videographer Oleksandr Mazur's two cameras and memory cards.

Radio Liberty is part of the U.S. Agency for Global Media, which also oversees Voice of America.

The journalists were allowed to leave after being ordered to delete video files from their memory cards. But Schemes' technicians later managed to retrieve video showing the entire incident.

Metsher's instructions

The clip shows how Metsher instructed his spokesman and security personnel to take the cameras and memory cards. Bank personnel can be heard saying that the memory cards "must be cleaned up to zero."

Officials including the office of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova condemned the attack.

The country's National Police said they had opened a criminal probe.

"Journalists must be allowed to do their work without fear of physical intimidation or harassment," RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement following the attack.

Ukrayinska Pravda contributed to this report.