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G7, World Bank decry Ukraine U-turn on corruption law

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Kiev (AFP)

G7 nations and the World Bank on Monday denounced Ukraine's annulment of a key anti-graft law "a serious setback" in the fight against corruption.

Their joint statement came the same day President Petro Poroshenko sacked a high-ranking defence official over a graft scandal; and as investigators arrested the head of a state defence company in a separate corruption probe.

Ukraine's Constitutional Court overturned a law criminalising illicit enrichment last week, saying it contravened the presumption of innocence.

"This has weakened the impact of the whole anti-corruption architecture," the G7 and World Bank said in their joint statement Monday, urging Ukraine to step up its fight against corruption.

The law had only been introduced in 2015 under pressure from the International Monetary Fund in exchange for bailout loans for the crisis-hit country.

The court ruling has already forced the National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) to abandon 65 cases of possible graft by officials. NABU condemned the ruling as "politically motivated" in a statement last week.

The G7-World Bank statement came as Poroshenko announced on Monday that he had fired Oleg Gladkovsky, deputy head of the national security council.

He is under investigation for having allegedly profited from the sale of smuggled Russian military parts to state defence companies.

And later Monday Ukraine detained the head of a state defence company on suspicion of embezzling some $2.2 million from a contract with the Indian defence ministry.

NABU said the head of the state-run defence company Spetstekhnoexport and four former employees had been arrested.

On Thursday, in a bid to head off the row over the Constitutional Court's ruling, Poroshenko proposed a fresh bill to fix the provisions in the anti-corruption law ruled unconstitutional.

Anti-graft group Transparency International also condemned the court ruling last week.

"Decriminalisation of illegal enrichment will mean a complete amnesty for absolutely all public officials with questionable wealth," it said.

Poroshenko is running for another term of office in the March 31 presidential election, with corruption still endemic despite the promises of successive leaders to tackle the issue.

Anger with the political elite is partly behind the rise of Volodymyr Zelensky, a TV actor with no political experience who is the frontrunner in the upcoming presidential vote.

Zelensky is polling at 25 percent, ahead of Poroshenko on 17 percent and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on 16 percent.

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