A Ukrainian judge who left the country in 2016 facing corruption charges was taken back across the border into Ukraine after being abducted outside a gym, the Moldovan interior minister said on Monday.
Judge Mykola Chaus was accused by Ukrainian law enforcement of taking a $150,000 bribe and stashing money in a glass jar in his garden five years ago. His wife Svitlana says the bribery case was fabricated.
His lawyer Iulian Balan told Reuters that Chaus was not guilty of any crimes on Moldovan territory and that the only information he had about his client’s whereabouts came from the Moldovan authorities.
After being stripped of his legal immunity by parliament, Chaus left for Moldova and applied for political asylum and Moldovan citizenship. The asylum claim was turned down in March.
“…the Ukrainian judge Chaus has crossed the state border of Moldova and is on the territory of Ukraine,” Interior Minister Pavel Voicu told a briefing, citing CCTV footage.
Police also found a minibus used by Chaus and his bodyguards, he said, adding that the kidnappers spoke Ukrainian.
Ukraine’s national anti-corruption bureau (NABU), which investigated Chaus, declined comment.
Ukrainian leaders have promised to clean up entrenched corruption in the judiciary, which opinion polls have found is one of the least trusted institutions in the country. Corruption is also a major deterrent to foreign investment.
The government under then President Petro Poroshenko introduced legislation in 2016 to force Ukrainian politicians, officials and judges to declare their assets in a publicly searchable online database.
The database showed judges with annual salaries of around $10,000-$13,000 declaring expensive cars, watches and large sums of cash.