“What happens when the face of a country’s anti-corruption movement suddenly is investigated for the sort of bribery he once condemned?
Ukraine, a U.S. ally and neighboring foe of Russia, is soon to find out. And it’s a case with implications in the United States, where the fallout from the unproven Trump-Russia collusion scandal has engulfed several Ukrainians.
The country’s chief corruption prosecutor on Thursday opened an investigation into “suspicions” that Serhiy Leshchenko, a crusading anti-corruption member of Ukraine’s parliament and former investigative journalist, accepted bribes in 2016 from a Russian source that enabled him to buy a luxury condo far above his means.
Leshchenko previously has denied any wrongdoing. The 2016 purchase of his condo was investigated once before and he was cleared of criminality. Now, however, the allegation of foreign bribe money adds an element.
On Thursday, Leshchenko responded to the new investigation on Twitter (with translation), suggesting it was evidence that his anti-corruption crusade was “hurting” prosecutors, who he said were trying to keep their jobs as a new Ukrainian president takes office. “It won’t work, you coward,” he added.
A Ukrainian court last December ruled that Leshchenko and the head of the country’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) — an investigative agency modeled on America’s FBI — both illegally meddled in the 2016 U.S. presidential election by leaking financial documents that smeared then-Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort.
The documents, known as “the black ledger,” identified payments Manafort secretly received from a Russian-backed political party in Ukraine years earlier and led to Manafort’s abrupt resignation from the Trump campaign. He eventually pleaded guilty to lobbying and tax violations and is in prison.