Anti-corruption group reveals fake companies in Kharkiv fortification contracts

Volodymyr Zelenskyy inspects defense facilities in Kharkiv Oblast on April 9, 2024
Volodymyr Zelenskyy inspects defense facilities in Kharkiv Oblast on April 9, 2024

Contracts for supplying wood for fortifications in Kharkiv Oblast, worth 366 million hryvnias ($9.2 million), raise significant concerns, Martyna Bohuslavets, head of the Anti-Corruption Center Mezha, told Radio NV on May 14.

According to Mezha's findings based on open-source data, contracts were signed with companies that appear to be fictitious. Tens of millions of hryvnias were transferred to a private entrepreneur whose owner, Ihor Chaus, has a criminal record for stealing a bottle of whiskey from a supermarket and was sentenced to 100 hours of community service, said the anti-graft activist.

"Or when such millions are withdrawn to companies where the owner, while intoxicated, committed domestic violence against her mother or was deprived of parental rights," she added. “In other words, you can roughly understand what kind of people we are talking about – even without a legal background. And it is precisely for this contingent that these firms were created.”

These firms were set up several months before they were awarded contracts worth hundreds of thousands of hryvnias.

"We are working with the documents, but we realized that this is a very sensitive issue, as it concerns the supply of wood to the fortifications where the enemy is advancing," Bohuslavets said. "That's why we made an exception in this case. And to be as sure as possible about what we were preparing, we went further: we went to the place of registration [of the individual entrepreneurs], which is Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. We were looking for these people registered as owners of these companies. We filmed everything.”

Mezha did not evaluate the construction of the fortifications, as this should be done by law enforcement agencies, including checking whether the timber was actually supplied.

"For us, this is a scheme where millions (in this case, according to official information, millions of hryvnias have already been withdrawn) are transferred to front companies," said Bohuslavets. "Law enforcement officers must check whether the timber was delivered or not. But we have great concerns that this is impossible.”

Read also: Vovchansk fortifications built despite intense Russian shelling — local authorities

Mezha investigated what the owners of the companies contracted for the supply of timber for the construction of fortifications are currently doing.

"One person is helping in the fields," she said. "This is literally true. He helps with agricultural work. And this is the owner of a company that receives millions for the timber it supplies. He does labor in the fields. Another person works at a metallurgical plant. I will not say which city it is. It is a city in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast. We looked for the registration of these people. And we are sure (from what we saw, from what witnesses told us) that these people cannot be the real owners of companies that can supply timber for millions of hryvnias.”

Bohuslavets noted that out of the contracts for the supply of timber worth more than 400 million hryvnias ($10.1 million), only 100 million hryvnias ($2.5 million) have been signed with forestry enterprises, while contracts for more than 300 million hryvnias ($7.6 million) have been signed with six companies that show signs of being fictitious.

Read also: Ukraine increases funding to fortification construction

"The next sign, which for us is an indisputable sign of fictitiousness, is that the director of such companies has changed four times over the past year," the anti-corruption activist said.

All these firms were found by the Kharkiv Oblast Military Administration and all contracts were concluded without open bidding.

Accusations of lack of fortifications on the border in Kharkiv Oblast and response

Denys Yaroslavskyi, commander of the intelligence unit of the Armed Forces of Ukraine, said on May 12 that street fighting was taking place in Vovchansk, Kharkiv Oblast, and emphasized that there were no fortifications or mines on the border of the region, which had been crossed by Russian troops.

"The enemy freely entered the ‘gray zone’ along the entire border line, which, in principle, should not have been gray,” he said. "After two years, there should have been concrete fortifications three floors underground on the Ukrainian border!" Yaroslavskyi wrote. "But there were not even mines. We are coming to the conclusion that this is either a crazy theft or deliberate sabotage! Now we are losing people and territory again, and we are doing what we did in September 2022.”

He added that the "125th [Brigade] of the Territorial Defense, which abandoned their positions," claims that "they were forced to sign acts of acceptance of the transfer of fortifications that were not even 30% ready as completed construction."

In response, the command of the 125th Separate Territorial Defense Brigade called this statement "a blatant case of psyops."

The 125th Territorial Defense Brigade said that the situation in its defense zone is difficult but controlled, and its units "repel the superior enemy forces, maintaining stability in combat orders."

Read also: Kharkiv official on frontline fortifications — interview

The Defense Ministry said that the best-equipped fortifications, which include reinforced concrete structures and premises for shelter and accommodation of the military, are located at a distance of 17-35 kilometers from the front line. Fortifications in the foreground are being built exclusively by military units holding positions, without the involvement of heavy equipment and civilian personnel due to constant shelling.

Tamaz Hambarashvili, head of the Vovchansk Town Military Administration, said that fortifications had been built in Vovchansk, Kharkiv Oblast, but that it was difficult to erect them due to constant Russian shelling.

Asked how they were preparing for the Russian offensive, the local governor assured that "everything was built, but perhaps not densely enough."

The Kharkiv regional authorities ordered a public report on the construction of fortifications in the region on May 13.

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Read the original article on The New Voice of Ukraine