- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 27, 2019

MINSK, Belarus (AP) - Ukraine’s Constitutional Court has struck down a law against officials enriching themselves, a move that raised concerns Wednesday about a weakening of the country’s fight against endemic corruption and ability to get more aid from the International Monetary Fund.

The National Anticorruption Bureau of Ukraine, the law enforcement agency that prepares corruption cases for prosecution, said the court decision published Wednesday meant criminal proceedings in all the cases detectives were investigating would have to be closed, including “illegal enrichment” investigations of judges and other public officials. The bureau said it had about 65 cases involving a total of about $20 million.

The Constitutional Court said the law was unconstitutional because it violated the presumption-of-innocence principle by obliging suspected officials to prove their assets were legitimate, rather than obliging prosecutors to show assets were obtained through corrupt practices.

The law was introduced in 2015 to meet an International Monetary Fund demand Ukraine needed to meet to receive badly needed loans. The IMF in 2015 authorized $17.5 billion in aid to Ukraine to support reforms.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said he would instruct his government to formulate a new draft law on punishing officials for corruption and that it would be submitted to parliament as an urgent priority.

Official corruption is a major issue in Ukraine as it approaches a presidential election on March 31. On Tuesday, one of Poroshenko’s top challengers in the race, Yulia Tymoshenko, called for him to be impeached following a media investigation into alleged embezzlement schemes in the country’s military industries.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the prosecutor general’s office Wednesday to protest corruption, crying “Death to the marauders.”

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