Analyzing NABU’s case against Agriculture Minister Solskyi

Mykola Solskyi
Mykola Solskyi

Ukrainian Agriculture Minister Mykola Solskyi is being investigated for alleged unlawful activity in 2017-2018 when he provided legal services to Ukrainian veterans buying real estate.

We will examine the details of the case, attempting to understand why it’s being investigated seven years later.

“The incumbent minister was exposed for embezzling state land worth UAH 291 million ($7.3 million) and attempting to appropriate another UAH 190 million ($3.8 million),” the National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) reported via Telegram on April 23.

Solskyi confirmed that he was formally charged on April 23. The courts are expected to determine the terms of his pretrial detention on April 24.

The case concerns Solskyi’s activities in 2017-2018 when he worked at the Protsyk and Partners law firm. A NV Business source in the government says the minister helped the ATO [Anti-Terrorist Operation, as the war in Donbas was called at the time] soldiers register land, when two hectares were allocated per person according to the law, in Sumy Oblast.

According to NABU, the state allocated 1,250 individual land plots with a total area of 2,493 hectares valued at over UAH 291 million in 2017-2021. NABU detectives believe this land were illegally seized from state enterprises, while Solskyi himself allegedly coordinated a criminal group, which also included State Land Registry officials and so-called “supervisors.” The minister denies all accusations.

NABU detectives have been working this case for several years. It may have surfaced now due to the weakening of Solskyi’s political position—he may lose his parliamentary seat in the coming months.

Read also: NABU accuses Agriculture Minister and several other officials of land embezzlement

Whose land?

The main question in the case investigated by NABU is about land ownership. According to the investigation, the participants of the scheme contributed to the destruction of documents that allowed two state-owned enterprises in Sumy Oblast to use the land in perpetuity. In the absence of these documents, the regional branch the State Land Registry documented unauthorized occupation of these land plots, according to NABU.

“Later, with the help of the regional State Land Registry officials, the land plots were transferred to predetermined individuals under the pretext of exercising their right to free land on condition that they sign a lease agreement with a private agricultural enterprise,” the report reads.

At the same time, the enterprises have only a copy of a land deed dated from the 1950s, NV Business sources said.

Solskyi rejects his involvement in this unlawful scheme.

“Disputes are resolved by the courts, in particular the Supreme Court, and, as far as I know, a number of [court] decisions state that state-owned enterprises have no [ownership] rights to the land [in question],” the minister said in a statement.

NV Business asked for a comment from Ivan Kravchuk, the head of NABU’s detective department, since the Solskyi case was investigated by his subordinates. Our journalists were interested in how the case, which had been under investigation for several years, suddenly got a top suspect. Kravchuk immediately handed over the phone to NABU spokesman Anton Tatarnikov. The latter said the charges against Solskyi were brought under normal procedure for the agency, adding that he is not authorized to comment on the substance of the case. However, he said that new details would be made public during the upcoming court hearing. In addition, NABU refused to answer whether the prosecution has direct evidence that it was Solskyi and other suspects who “destroyed land ownership documents.” We were able to confirm that this case has been under investigation for several years.

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Who is Solskyi?

Mykola Solskyi, a lawyer by education, was one of the first individuals to join Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s team. Given his high office and good knowledge of the current government’s behind-the-scenes activity may turn Solskyi into a valuable informant if he enters into a deal with the prosecution.

Zelenskyy’s first Chief-of-Staff Andriy Bohdan invited Solskyi to the Servant of the People party before the 2019 parliamentary elections, NV Business sources said. He had headed the parliamentary Committee on Agrarian and Land Policy for three years before he was given the current ministerial portfolio in March 2022. The minister managed to overcome the toxic association with Bohdan by pushing through the establishment of a land market Ukraine. The law entered into force on July 1, 2021, and became Zelenskyy’s key political achievement.

So, why has this case surfaced right now? Solskyi was put on the “blacklist” of government officials who are expected to be dismissed from ministerial positions, NV Business sources say.

“His name has been mentioned several times among those who are expected to be dismissed,” we were told.

In addition to Solskyi, Infrastructure Minister Oleksandr Kubrakov, Reintegration Minister Iryna Vereshchuk, Justice Minister Denis Malyuska, and Prosecutor General Andriy Kostin may lose their positions. We speculate that given his looming dismissal, NABU decided to press charges against Solskyi at this time.

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