Ukraine fires top cybersecurity officials amid corruption investigations related to software purchases

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine fired its two top civilian cybersecurity officials on Monday as prosecutors announced an investigation into embezzlement over software purchases in 2020 to 2022 in which the state intelligence chief was allegedly involved.

The fired officials include Viktor Zhora, known internationally as the face of Ukraine’s much-lauded, Western-backed effort to counter Russia’s incessant hacking campaigns.

Along with Zhora, his boss, Yurii Shchyhol, head of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, was fired, a senior Cabinet official, Taras Melnychuk, announced on Telegram.

Neither man was named in a statement from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which said that the head of the state intelligence service and his deputy as well as “the general director and employee of a state-owned company” were among the suspects and that it was the special communications service at the Regulation involved.

Ukraine has been hit by corruption scandals, especially recently Firing six deputy defense secretaries. Government reform and tackling the widespread corruption that existed in Ukraine before the Russian invasion are a key requirement for membership in the European Union and NATO.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, elected in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform, and his aides have portrayed recent firings of senior officials, particularly Ivan Bakanov, the former head of the State Security Service, as evidence of their efforts to crack down on the corruption graft . Bakanov was released in July 2022.

In the embezzlement case, the alleged conspirators stole 62 million Ukrainian hryvnias (currently $1.7 million) from a no-tender contract by jointly aiming to inflate the prices of software and services purchased abroad, the said Anti-corruption office with.

The name of the purchased software was not mentioned.

A statement on the website of the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection said that all procurements since 2020 have complied with legal requirements. Authorities have been asked not to make allegations against individuals until the investigation is complete.

Zhora told The Associated Press he had nothing to add to the statement.

He has represented Ukraine at major conferences in Washington and European capitals, as well as at hacker gatherings such as BlackHat. Earlier this month, Zhora gave the keynote address at the Cyberwarcon cybersecurity conference outside Washington.

“Ukraine is currently holding a masterclass in defense. Viktor Zhora led this defense,” said conference organizer John Hultquist of cybersecurity firm Mandiant as he introduced him.

In September, Zhora told reporters in an online briefing that Russian state-backed hackers have been particularly interested in breaking into and extracting data from law enforcement agencies involved in Russian war crimes investigations in recent months.

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