Ukrainian investigators suspect Naftogaz executive of strongarming minister

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine’s National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) said on Wednesday it suspected a senior executive in state energy firm Naftogaz of putting “illegal pressure” on a former minister to secure a government post.

NABU suspects Andriy Pasishnik, a deputy head of Naftogaz, of pressuring Abromavicius “with the aim of putting himself forward for the deputy minister position, against the will of the minister.”

Pasishnik denied the allegations. “All these ‘suspicions’ have no basis,” he said in a Facebook post.

The allegation is the latest twist in a scandal surrounding the resignation of Aivaras Abromavicius in February, which underlined Ukraine’s struggle to eliminate cronyism and implement reforms demanded by Western creditors.

Abromavicius resigned in February saying that powerful figures behind the scenes were making his job impossible. A former fund manager lauded by Washington as a reformer, his brief included privatizing hundreds of state-owned companies and also breaking apart Naftogaz into smaller entities.

He did not name Pasishnik directly in his resignation speech in February, but accused Ihor Kononenko, an ally of President Petro Poroshenko, of seeking to fill ministerial posts with his associates.

His accusations added momentum to a political crisis that has pushed the coalition close to breaking point and delayed billions of dollars in international loans.

Kononenko denies any wrongdoing.

NABU said detectives had intended to question Pasishnik on Wednesday, but that he had contacted the bureau on Tuesday evening to say he would not be available until April 1 as he had to travel abroad urgently for medical treatment.

Reporting by Natalia Zinets; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Matthias Williams and Ralph Boulton