KYIV, UKRAINE - Ukrainian anti-corruption agencies plan to detain the head of the tax and customs service, Roman Nasirov, over the alleged embezzlement of around 2 billion hryvnias ($75 million), a senior prosecutor said Friday.
Television footage showed an unconscious-looking Nasirov being stretchered into an ambulance and taken to Kyiv’s Feofania hospital late Thursday. Reporters said he had suffered a heart attack. This could not be independently verified.
Anti-corruption prosecutor Nazar Kholodnytsky said investigators believe Nasirov helped exiled lawmaker Oleksandr Onishchenko deprive the state of 2 billion hryvnias in tax revenue linked to a gas deal.
"Detectives and a prosecutor went to Feofania yesterday," Kholodnytsky said on television channel 112. "Nasirov was notified of the allegation by a detective. I will find out if he was conscious or not."
Nasirov has previously denied all allegations of graft against him. His office would not immediately comment on the matter.
Kholodnytsky was openly skeptical about Nasirov's sudden hospitalization.
If 38-year-old Nasirov is found guilty, it would be the first successful prosecution of a senior official for graft since the 2014 uprising that ushered in a Western-backed leadership promising to tackle endemic corruption.
Stop-start reform efforts over the past three years have raised concerns that Ukraine's political elite lacked the will to eradicate a deep-rooted system of cronyism and bribe-taking.
Nasirov's lawyer, Andriy Kuzmenko, confirmed that he was being investigated for embezzlement and said he could face up to six years in prison.
Opposition lawmakers and the finance ministry have previously called for Nasirov to be investigated for abuse of office.
In 2016, Nasirov clashed with an activist appointed to reform the graft-plagued customs of Odessa over her accusation that he had blocked her attempts to fire corrupt officials.
In an online wealth declaration tool aimed at boosting transparency, he disclosed last October that he and his wife held cash in euros and dollars worth $2.2 million and owned Swiss watches, diamond jewelery, fur coats and fine porcelain among other items. He told Reuters in an interview he had earned this money in the financial sector before taking office.