Ukraine Gambling Commissioner Arrested in Bribery Scheme

By | August 25, 2021

A Ukraine gambling commissioner who served as the regulatory agency’s first interim director has been arrested on bribery charges.

Ukraine casino Kyiv gambling
Independence Monument in Kyiv towers over the capital city. Corruption, law enforcement agencies say in Ukraine, is alive and well in the country’s gaming agency. (Image: Getty)

Anti-corruption law enforcement agencies in Ukraine say they detained a member of the Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries after learning that the commissioner was allegedly accepting bribes in exchange for favorable rulings. Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) explains that it first learned of suspected fraud within the gambling commission earlier this summer.

NABU Detectives learned about the systematic acceptance of illegal benefits in particularly large amounts for the issuance of gambling permits and licenses. In order to expose the criminal scheme, NABU and the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor’s Office developed and carried out a set of covert investigative (search) activities involving undercover detectives,” a government release explained.

Authorities say the unidentified gaming regulator asked undercover detectives for a US$90,000 bribe. In exchange, the individual allegedly promised the issuance of permits to allow gambling to be conducted at two businesses located in Chernihiv and Zaporizhzhia.

“The official was caught red-handed,” the NABU statement declared. Defendants in Ukraine are presumed innocent until he or she is found guilty in court.

Likely Foe

NABU isn’t naming names in the alleged gambling commission bribery scheme. But news outlets in the Eastern European country believe they have identified the defendant.

The Kyiv Post and Ukrainska Pravda are reporting that the man in question is likely Yevhen Hetman, a current member of the gaming agency. Hetman served as the interim chair of the Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries after it was formed in 2020.

Gambling was made illegal in 2009 by then-President Viktor Yushchenko. But in 2020, President Volodymyr Zelensky ended the casino prohibition, and formed the gaming regulatory agency. Zelensky’s decision to return gambling to the country was heavily based on forecasts suggesting that Ukraine would receive upwards of $200 million annually from gaming taxes.

Hotels and other businesses seeking to place slot machines and table games into their facilities were required to apply for fresh gaming licenses. The applications were reviewed and gaming privileges issued by the Commission for the Regulation of Gambling and Lotteries.

The commission has issued 40 gaming licenses this year alone. Among the recipients are several five-star luxury hotels, including the Fairmont Grand and Premier Palace — both in the Kyiv capital.

Prior to becoming a gaming regulatory, Hetman served Ukraine as a member of the country’s Anti-Terrorist Operation (ATO). He was also set to represent Ukraine in the 2020 Invictus Games before they were canceled by the pandemic.

Corruption Remains

Ukraine was at the center of the first impeachment of former President Donald Trump in late 2019. Trump, who was acquitted by the Senate, was charged by the House with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress for his call with Zelensky on July 25, 2019.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, which reviews and ranks governments “to expose the systems and networks that enable corruption to thrive,” Ukraine’s 2020-21 corruption grade was 33 out of a possible 100 points.

Of the 67 countries on the index, Ukraine ranks tied for 47th. Notable countries scoring better than Ukraine include the Philippines, Colombia, China, and Kuwait. The United States was graded 67 points, which ranks tied for 14th best in the world.

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