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Bribery Defendant Used Ukrainian Military 'Aid' Mission To Flee Prosecution, Investigation Finds

Ukraine’s Special Operations Forces wanted Kyiv City Council member Vladyslav Trubitsyn (above), indicted on bribery charges, to go abroad for "special equipment." He did. And has not returned for trial.

KYIV -- A letter from the head of Ukraine's military intelligence agency to the State Border Service allowed a Ukrainian politician facing trial on bribery charges to leave Ukraine on a supposed business trip, becoming a fugitive from justice, Schemes, the investigative unit of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, has found.

For unclear reasons, the country's Special Operations Forces had chosen the indicted politician to collect "humanitarian aid" for its troops.

Vladyslav Trubitsyn, 40, head of the Kyiv City Council's Standing Committee on Entrepreneurship, Industry, and Urban Development and a former member of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party, left Ukraine three days before a May 16 preliminary hearing at the High Anti-Corruption Court, which is handling the case. Trubitsyn and five other individuals received 1.39 million hryvnyas ($37,600) in bribes for facilitating retail in Kyiv.

Officially, Trubitsyn traveled at the request of the Defense Ministry's Main Intelligence Directorate (HUR) to obtain "necessary humanitarian aid" for Ukraine's Special Operations Forces (SSO), a branch of the armed forces responsible for unconventional tactics and reconnaissance against Russia's tens of thousands of invading troops.

SSO spokesman Oleksandr Kindratenko confirmed to Schemes that the SSO's commander, Brigadier General Viktor Khorenko, had requested the HUR's chief, Major General Kyrylo Budanov, to petition the State Border Service to allow Trubitsyn and four other individuals to leave Ukraine to acquire "special equipment" for the SSO.

Schemes learned that Budanov did so, asking State Border Service Director Serhiy Deyneko on January 27 to ensure the group's "unhindered crossing of the border" as part of a foreign business trip to be carried out between January 28 and May 25. The letter did not mention humanitarian aid.

Saying that the details "constitute an official secret," Kindratenko declined to identify the needed "equipment" for which Trubitsyn and the others would be traveling. He said the SSO wanted the HUR to make the request since "it is much faster and easier for them."

He did not explain why the SSO chose Trubitsyn, described in his Kyiv City Council biography as a "secondhand book dealer" and "philanthropist" known for "entrepreneurial activities in the field of antiques and art," to obtain these supplies while under indictment.

Coming amid intense international scrutiny of Ukraine's commitment to fighting corruption as the recipient of tens of billions of dollars in military aid, Trubitsyn's flight from justice risks putting the country's military brass again on the defensive -- an earlier scandal erupted in early 2023 over inflated pricing for military food suppliers.

Against that backdrop, Kindratenko said the SSO does not approve of Trubitsyn missing his May 16 hearing and had cautioned him about the "rules" for leaving and returning to Ukraine.

"We facilitated [his] traveling abroad for good purposes; namely, to provide the SSO units with everything they need to fight the enemy," he said, referring to Russia. "We have an extremely negative attitude toward the fact that this person used such a pretext during the war for his personal purposes and did not return to Ukraine to fulfill his procedural duties in court."

Speaking on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the subject, people with access to Ukrainian border data told Schemes that the politician drove through western Ukraine's Rava-Ruska border checkpoint in his Mercedes S600 sedan en route to Poland at roughly 7 p.m. on May 13. The State Border Service notified prosecutors that he crossed the border at the HUR's request, sources in the Prosecutor-General's Office told Schemes on condition of anonymity.

Aside from his May 16 court date, Trubitsyn also missed a May 30 hearing.

On June 5, the High Anti-Corruption Court approved an international search warrant for Trubitsyn. A week later, it confiscated his bail of 9.8 million hryvnyas ($265,000) and authorized his detention.

Martial law bars Ukrainian men aged 18 to 60 from leaving the country, although exceptions exist for "transportation for the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine" and for "humanitarian aid cargo."

Khorenko's request to the HUR's Budanov addressed both exemptions, as a copy of the January 20 letter shows. He described Trubitsyn and four other individuals as "volunteers" who are "supplying" the Special Operations Forces with "necessary humanitarian assistance."

Schemes obtained the document from a person who is familiar with the case but is not authorized to discuss it publicly.

Two of the four other "volunteers" listed in the HUR's petition told Schemes they had traveled abroad to import trucks for the military but denied any knowledge of Trubitsyn; a third, an antiques collector, declined to comment, saying his trip was about "humanitarian assistance."

Why Trubitsyn's "humanitarian" mission required clearance from the heads of the SSO, HUR, and State Border Service rather than more junior officials is unclear.

Evidence in the National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) and Special Anti-Corruption Prosecutors' (SAP) case against Trubitsyn alleges that the councilman may have had an influential protector, however.

During a February 2022 hearing on Trubitsyn's case, a prosecutor read an excerpt from a covertly recorded conversation in which a person identified as Trubitsyn's assistant, Ilya Lif, claimed that a deputy head of Zelenskiy's office, Oleh Tatarov, oversaw the alleged kickback scheme.

Tatarov, who previously was the subject of a corruption investigation that was eventually dropped, has not been charged in the case. He did not respond to Schemes's requests for comment.

Trubitsyn, who resigned from Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party in May over the case, contends that prosecutors' accusations are politically motivated and denies any wrongdoing.

He did not respond to phone calls or communications from Schemes sent by secure messaging apps about why he left Ukraine before asserting his innocence in court.

Kindratenko noted that, at the time of the SSO's request to the HUR, no restrictions had been placed on Trubitsyn, as a criminal defendant, leaving the country.

"Otherwise, the State Border Service would not have allowed this person to cross the border," the spokesman said.

State Border Service spokesman Andriy Demchenko, who said he had "no information" about Trubitsyn's departure, concurred.

A SAP prosecutor told Schemes that the councilman was under no "procedural obligation" to refrain from traveling abroad but had failed to notify the court before leaving the country, as required by law.

SSO Commander Khorenko requested that the "volunteers" be given four months to cross the border -- from January 28 until May 25 -- to facilitate group members leaving "at different intervals of time," according to SSO spokesman Kindratenko.

Trubitsyn's Mercedes S600 -- an online database of license-plate numbers dates the vehicle to 2018 -- is a luxury vehicle not built for hauling cargo in quantity.

Trubitsyn's departure from Ukraine was not his first since his bail on charges of bribery in February 2022.

Sources with access to the State Border Service's database informed Schemes that Trubitsyn also traveled abroad at the HUR's request on November 13, 2022, and January 22. The official reason for these additional trips is unclear.

Officially, Trubitsyn and his fellow "volunteers" traveled as representatives of the Kyiv charity Ridna Obolon, according to Kindratenko.

Trubitsyn formerly co-owned the organization, which describes itself on Facebook as addressing needs in the Ukrainian capital's Obolon district, which is part of Trubitsyn's constituency. Since his failure to appear in court in Ukraine, the charity has changed its name, ownership, and management, registry records show.

Written by Elizabeth Owen based on reporting by Olya Ivleva, Kira Tolstyakova, and Natalie Sedletska of Schemes.