The Minister of Agriculture of Ukraine faces suspicion in a corruption case. What happened?

The Minister of Agriculture of Ukraine faces suspicion in a corruption case. What happened?

On April 23, the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine and the Specialised Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office accused the current Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food, Mykola Solskyi, of seizing state land worth nearly $7.4 million and attempting to seize land worth another $4.8 million. 

Solskyi resigned as minister, and the court imposed a pre-trial restraint in detention with the possibility of bail for $ 1.9 million.

The case covers 2017-2021, when Solskyi was not yet a minister. Read more about the case and the minister's position in our explainer.

What are the allegations against the minister?

Mykola Solskyi became the Minister of Agrarian Policy and Food on March 24, 2022, during the full-scale war. Since 2019, he has been an MP of Volodymyr Zelenskyi's Servant of the People (Sluha Narodu) party and the head of the Agrarian Committee of the Verkhovna Rada. Previously, he worked as a lawyer and owned agricultural companies.

According to the anti-corruption bodies, a group consisting of Mykola Solskyi, then a lawyer and owner of several agricultural companies, officials of the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre and the so-called curators of this body, carried out the criminal deal in 2017-2021. 

The participants in the scheme destroyed documents based on which two state enterprises from the structure of the National Academy of Agrarian Sciences had the right to use land in the Sumy region permanently. The regional State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre then drew up an act of unlawful occupation of these lands. 

Under the guise of exercising their right to free land, they transferred the plots to the ownership of designated ATO (Anti-Terrorist Operation) soldiers. They agreed the land would be leased to a private agricultural company.

The Prosecutor's Office reports that those involved in the scheme seized 1,250 plots of land covering a total area of 2,493 hectares, valued at more than $7.4 million. 

The suspects also attempted to seize 3,282 hectares of land worth about $4.8 million, but SAPO and NABU seized the land.

In addition to the minister, 12 other alleged participants in the criminal scheme received suspicion notices, including the former head of the State Service of Ukraine for Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre Oleksandr Kolotilin and Solskyi's deputy Markiyan Dmytrasevych. The investigation has been ongoing since 2019.

What does the minister say about the allegations?

Mykola Solskyi became the first minister in office to receive suspicion from the anti-corruption agencies that started working in Ukraine after the Revolution of Dignity in 2014. 

The minister said that the events for which the NABU served him with suspicion relate to the period of 2017-2018, i.e., when he was a lawyer and did not work in the government or parliament. But he does not admit his guilt.

The circumstances of seven years ago relate to a dispute between state companies and individuals, including ATO soldiers, over land granted to the latter following the law. The courts, including the Supreme Court, resolve disputes and, as far as I am aware, a number of decisions have stated that state-owned enterprises do not have the right to the land to which NABU is probably referring,

the minister said, commenting on the case. 

He wrote that he ‘guarantees maximum openness to establish the truth’ and claimed that the court would not find the minister or his relatives among those to whom the land had been transferred. 

During the court hearing, Mykola Solskyi said that he was 'absolutely sure' that the companies did not have and did not have the right to permanently use the land about which NABU had sent him a notice of suspicion.

Mykola Solskyi submitted his resignation from the post of Minister. The Verkhovna Rada will consider Solsky's resignation at one of its next plenary sessions. The dates of the sessions are not announced in advance for security reasons during the war.

The Supreme Anti-Corruption Court imposed a pre-trial restraint on Mykola Solskyi in detention until June 24 with the possibility of bail for $1.9 million. 

The minister's lawyer told Suspilne that bail had already been paid. Now Mykola Solsky has to stay in Kyiv, arrive at the request of law enforcement officers, not communicate with witnesses in the case, deposit his passport and other documents and wear an electronic bracelet. The court also banned the minister from communicating with his deputy.

According to Solskyi's declaration, he owns a 9% stake in Agro-Luchky, 18.73% each in three companies — Natasha-Agro, Rozhnivka-Agro and Malodivytske Grain Receiving Enterprise, and 0.1% in the Ukrainian Agrarian Holding. Solskiy transferred his company shares to the management (according to the law, Ukrainian civil servants cannot run a business themselves — ed.).

In 2023, Agro-Luchky brought the minister about $420,000 in dividends and Natasha-Agro — $42,900. The minister also declared $300,000, 226,000 euros and more than $141,500 in cash assets. 

The minister and his wife own five cars, an apartment and a non-residential building in Kyiv, as well as three land plots of more than 4,000 m² in the village of Lisnyky, Kyiv region.

Possible reorganisation of the Ukrainian government

Solskyi received the notice of suspicion against the backdrop of active talks about downsizing and streamlining the Ukrainian government. 

At the beginning of the year, Volodymyr Zelenskyy spoke of reducing the number of ministries to save money and accumulate funds for war needs.

In early March, Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told a press conference that the government would be reduced by a third to 15-16 ministers. There have been no concrete steps in this direction, and all versions of the merger or liquidation of certain ministries remain at the level of rumour and insider information. 

The political party Batkivshchyna (the third largest party in the Ukrainian parliament with 8.18%) and its leader, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, registered a resolution in the Verkhovna Rada demanding the immediate resignation of Mykola Solskyi as Minister of Agrarian Policy. They registered the resolution before Solskyi submitted his resignation.

Batkivshchyna also insists on the adoption of a bill with an immediate moratorium on land sales until the end of martial law and for five years afterwards. Under Solskyi's chairmanship of the parliamentary committee on agriculture, MPs introduced the land market in Ukraine.

"As Yulia Tymoshenko repeatedly warned, the whole land reform turned out to be a fraud, legitimised by the authorities at night, behind closed doors, in secret, without allowing farmers and the public to discuss it," Batkivshchyna said