Ukraine’s farm minister tenders resignation over corruption allegations

By Thomson Reuters Apr 25, 2024 | 3:54 PM

By Tom Balmforth and Yuliia Dysa

KYIV (Reuters) -Ukraine’s agriculture minister tendered his resignation on Thursday as he faces criminal allegations for involvement in an illegal acquisition of state-owned land worth $7 million.

Mykola Solsky, 44, has been at the centre of Ukraine’s effort to keep its grain industry going as Russia’s full-scale invasion has blocked Black Sea export routes, strewn fields with landmines and seen farmland occupied.

Solsky denies the allegations against him that prosecutors say relate to events in 2017-2021, before he became agriculture minister in March 2022.

A court is expected at 0500 GMT on Friday to determine whether to have him taken into custody. Prosecutors told a hearing on Thursday that the allegations against him were punishable by up to 12 years in jail.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau has said the allegations relate to a scheme to acquire state-owned land worth 291 million hryvnia ($7.35 million) and trying to obtain land worth 190 million hryvnia.

Under the alleged scheme, the land was illegally taken from two state firms and transferred to war veterans on the condition they lease it to some private firms, prosecutors said.

Solsky and his lawyer told the hearing on Thursday that he did not benefit from any such scheme.

Solsky is the first known minister under President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to be named a suspect in a corruption case.

His resignation will be reviewed at one of the next plenary sessions of Ukraine’s parliament, Speaker Ruslan Stefanchuk said on the Telegram messaging app.

“If the Verkhovna Rada (parliament) decides to accept my resignation, I will be grateful for such a decision, if it decides I should continue to work – I will continue to work,” Solsky wrote on Telegram.

Kyiv has applied to join the European Union, and Ukraine’s agriculture minister will be heavily involved in negotiations to integrate the country’s giant grain industry into the 27-member bloc.

Several major agrarian associations issued statements voicing their support for the minister under whom who they said the ministry had worked “professionally and smoothly with agricultural producers”.

Zelenskiy has tried to project a zero tolerance line on corruption and last year replaced his defence minister after graft allegations pertaining to the defence ministry.

Ukraine was among the world’s leading grain and vegetable oil producers, but its output has sharply decreased due to the full-scale invasion that has buffeted the industry.

During the war, Solsky has been on numerous travelling delegations tasked variously with trying to revive Black Sea grain exports, nurture exports via the Danube and ease a border blockade by protesting Polish truckers and farmers.

(Reporting by Yuliia Dysa, Pavel Politiuk; writing by Tom Balmforth; editing by Barbara Lewis)