Ukraine fired its two top civilian cybersecurity officials today as prosecutors announced an investigation into alleged embezzlement in 2020-2022 software procurement involving the head of the national intelligence service. Viktor Zhora, known internationally as a symbol of Ukraine's defense against continuous hacker attacks from Russia, is among those dismissed.
With Zhor, his boss Yury Shchihol, the head of the State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection, was fired, announced on Telegram a high official of the Ukrainian government, Taras Melnichuk.
Neither Žora nor Ščihol are mentioned by name in the statement of the National Anti-Corruption Bureau, which states that among the suspects are the head of the state intelligence service and his deputy, as well as "the general director and one employee of a state-owned enterprise", and that Service for special communications involved in a corrupt scheme.
Ukraine is rocked by corruption scandals, and recently six assistants to the Minister of Defense were fired.
State administration reforms and tackling widespread corruption, which existed in Ukraine even before the Russian invasion, are a key condition for gaining membership in the European Union and NATO.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, elected to office in 2019 on a promise to fight corruption, and his aides have portrayed recent firings of top officials, notably former head of the State Security Service Ivan Bakanov, as evidence of their efforts to deliver on their promises. Bakanov was fired in July 2022.
Participants in the scheme allegedly took 62 million Ukrainian hryvnias (about $1,7 million) through a contract without public procurement, inflating the price of software and services purchased from abroad, the anti-corruption bureau said.
The name of the acquired software has not been released.
The State Service for Special Communications and Information Protection said all purchases were in accordance with the law, and authorities are urged to refrain from pointing fingers at individuals until the investigation is complete.
Zhora told The Associated Press that he had nothing to add to the announcement.
He represented Ukraine at major conferences in Washington and European capitals.
"Ukraine is currently giving the state a 'masterclass' in defense. Victor Zhora is leading that defense," said John Hultquist of the cybersecurity firm Mandiant, introducing the Ukrainian expert at his Cyberwarcon conference in the US this month.
In September, Zhora told reporters that Russian hackers have been particularly interested in stealing data from agencies involved in investigations into Russian war crimes in Ukraine in recent months.John Hultquist