Ukraine leader calls on anti-graft bodies to probe subsidies to poultry producer

KIEV, July 18 (Reuters) - Ukraine’s President called on Thursday for anti-corruption bodies to investigate how the country’s leading agriculture company MHP SE received substantial subsidies from the state budget.

MHP is Ukraine’s major poultry producer, supplying around 35% of the chicken consumed annually in the country.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy told an anti-corruption meeting that MHP had received around 2.5 billion hryvnias (around $97 million) in subsidies from the state budget in 2017-2018.

“In fact, it does not need state support, having excess profit,” Zelenskiy said. “It annually pays huge dividends to its shareholders.”

“I would like to appeal to our law enforcement (and) anti-corruption authorities - let’s check if we have... the amount of this budget aid and the amount of dividends, and compare. Maybe we will get the same figures.”

The company said in March that its board of directors had approved payment of an interim dividend of $0.7474 per share, equivalent to approximately $80 million.

MHP did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

The company said on Wednesday its poultry production rose 17% in the second quarter, while chicken meat exports rose 39% year-on-year to nearly 100,000 tonnes.

Zelenskiy ran for president despite having no political experience. He previously played a teacher in a TV comedy who unexpectedly became president after a pupil posted a video of his foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians online. (Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Jan Harvey)