Ukraine sacks top cybersecurity officials in corruption probe involving software purchases

Kiev, Ukraine — Ukraine fired its two top civilian cybersecurity officials on Monday after prosecutors announced an embezzlement investigation related to software purchases in the 2020-2022 period, allegedly involving the head of state intelligence.

Among the fired officials is Viktor Zhora, known internationally as the face of Ukraine’s acclaimed Western-backed efforts to defend itself against incessant Russian hacking campaigns.

Along with Zhora, his boss, Yurii Shchyhol, head of the state Special Communications and Information Protection Agency, was dismissed, a senior cabinet official, Taras Melnychuk, announced on Telegram.

Neither man was named in a statement from the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which said the suspects included the head of state intelligence and his deputy and “the general manager and employee of a state-owned company” and that the Special Communications Bureau the scheme involved.

Ukraine has been plagued by corruption scandals, the most recent involving the dismissal of six deputy defense ministers. Government reforms and tackling the widespread corruption that existed in Ukraine before the Russian invasion are a key condition for gaining membership of the European Union and NATO.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who was elected in 2019 on an anti-corruption platform, and his aides have portrayed the recent resignations of top officials, particularly Ivan Bakanov, former head of the State Security Service, as evidence of their efforts to crack down on corruption . grafting. Bakanov was fired in July 2022.

In the embezzlement case, the alleged conspirators extracted 62 million Ukrainian hryvni (currently $1.7 million) from a no-bid contract by conspiring to raise the price of software and services purchased abroad, the anti -corruption bureau.

The purchased software was not mentioned.

A statement on the website of the State Service of Special Communications and Information Protection said that all its procurements since 2020 have met legal requirements. Authorities were urged not to make any charges against individuals until investigations are completed.

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

He represented Ukraine at major conferences in Washington and European capitals and at hacker meetings, including BlackHat. Earlier this month, Zhora keynoted the Cyberwarcon cybersecurity conference outside Washington.

“Ukraine is currently giving a defense masterclass. Viktor Zhora is leading that defense,” said conference organizer John Hultquist of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant when he introduced him.

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