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World News

Ukrainian parliament restores accountability for false asset declarations

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukrainian lawmakers on Friday approved a draft law that would restore accountability for false asset declarations by officials, improving the government’s chances of securing more foreign aid for an economy battered by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The vote sought to repair the damage from a decision taken by the Constitutional Court in October to strike down some anti-corruption laws.

But many lawmakers criticised Friday’s vote as not going far enough, as criminal liability for false asset declarations only begins at sums above 9 million hryvnias ($318,302) under the new measure.

Speaker Dmytro Razumkov called it a compromise and hoped President Volodymyr Zelenskiy would sign the legislation into law next week.

“It was a matter of principle for us to restore criminal responsibility and we did it,” he said. “Second, it was important for us to put pressure on those people who ... do not want to declare.”

The constitutional court had ruled in October against some anti-corruption laws, citing as excessive the punishment for false information on officials’ asset declarations, and also struck down some powers of the main NAZK anti-graft agency.

The decision hobbled a $5 billion International Monetary Fund deal that was already mired in concerns about Ukraine’s reform momentum and the independence of the central bank.

Zelenskiy had warned the country could slide into “bloody chaos” and be stripped of its prized visa-free access to European Union countries if anti-corruption reforms were not restored.

Faced with the prospect of not receiving more IMF loans, the prime minister said this week the government might issue external debt worth $1 billion in December.

Ukraine’s economy is expected to contract by 5% this year, dragged into recession by the coronavirus pandemic. Cases have spiked since September and the government announced it may introduce a strict national lockdown in early January.

The IMF did not immediately comment on Friday’s vote.

Editing by Matthias Williams and Chizu Nomiyama

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