Ukrainian authorities arrested a former mayoral candidate for the country's capital Kiev on Saturday over suspicions that he is involved with an organised criminal group.
Ukrainian Union of Patriots (UKROP) party head Hennadiy Korban, who ran unsuccessfully to become the mayor of Kiev last month, has been accused of being behind a number of kidnappings in the city of Dnipropetrovsk between 2014 and 2015.
Korban, who in 2013 was claimed by Forbes-Ukraine magazine to have a financial standing of $153 million, was serving as the deputy governor of Dnipropetrovsk at the time.
The 45-year-old Jewish businessman was assistant to then-Dnipropetrovsk mayor Ihor Kolomoyskiy, who was dismissed by Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in 2015 after he was accused of establishing a private militia to take control of a state-owned oil firm.
He is also accused of embezzling $1.7 million from funds belonging to Ukrainian servicemen on the frontline against pro-Russian rebels in the country’s east.
Around 500 police officers participated in the operation to arrest Korban, along with an unspecified number of other suspects in Dnipropetrovsk, reports stated.
Police also searched several UKROP party offices, which the party condemned as "political repression."
“Apparently, someone does not like UKROP’s good result in local elections, as we entered 15 regional councils, 150 city councils, and 200 district councils,” senior UKROP member and lawmaker Boris Filatov told 112 Ukraine TV in an interview.
“Maybe someone wants to put pressure on me before the second round. I still can’t understand, but this can only be political repressions. In Dnepropetrovsk, there is a total cleansing of the party," he added.
"Korban was detained in front of me - without explanation and without a single document. They came to his home, started to break down the door. When I came up [he lives next door] and asked what was happening, I was told that they were looking for a criminal who, according to them, resides in the house. They broke down the door, grabbed Korban on the doorstep and took him to a place unknown."
"The whole city is full of 'jammers,' mobile networks are down; at every intersection there are Volkswagens with armed men and tinted windows.”
According to the Ukraine Today news website, UKROP member Denys Borysenko said the party plans to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) over Korban’s arrest.
Hromadianska Posytsia (Civic Position) Party leader Anatoliy Hrytsenko also criticised Korban’s arrest, pointing out that others facing similar allegations are walking free.
“Korban is detained. [Kharkiv mayor Hennadiy] Kernes is at large. Their past is alike, gang-wise,” Hrytsenko wrote on Facebook.
In the same post, Hrytsenko accused Kernes of being pro-Russian while calling Korban a “patriot,” indicating that the country is succumbing once again to Russian pressure and reverting to conditions before Ukraine’s pro-EU revolution in February 2014.
In February 2014, Ukraine’s former pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych fled Kiev following months of violent protests in the capital’s Euromaidan Square after the government refused a much-needed EU bailout.
A month later, Russia annexed the breakaway Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine following a referendum, in which Crimea’s predominantly ethnic Russian population voted in favour of joining Moscow.
Russia has also been supporting rebels in the east of the country who have declared self-proclaimed republics in the regions of Luhansk and Donetsk. Despite a ceasefire deal signed by both sides in the Belarussian capital Minsk in February, sporadic clashes continue as tensions still run high.