Ukrainian border guards have seized 16 kilograms (35 pounds) of gold and 90,000 packets of cigarettes along with tens of thousands of dollars and euros from Ukrainian diplomats as they tried to smuggle them into neighboring Poland, investigators said on Monday.
The smuggling was discovered on Sunday when the border guards stopped a minibus. A driver of the Ukrainian embassy in Warsaw and an attache for consular affairs were in the vehicle at the time, the state investigative bureau said in a statement.
Some $140,000 and 67,000 euros ($80,000) in cash were also seized from the van, along with the gold and cigarettes, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The bureau said they had uncovered the activities of a criminal group that included current and former employees of the Ukrainian embassy in Poland and also a member of the state-run service for special communications and information protection.
"I will never cover up the scoundrels who think they can use their diplomatic status ... for personal illegal enrichment," Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Facebook.
"I immediately recalled both employees from a long-term business trip abroad. Their work at the embassy is over. The investigation will be thorough and swift," Kuleba stated.
If found guilty, the diplomats could face a fine of up to 5,000 euros, according to AFP.
Smuggling cigarettes is one of the most widespread crimes in Ukrainian border regions since the price of cigarettes in Ukraine is much lower than in neighboring European countries, according to Reuters.
Ukraine has long struggled to stamp out corruption. Transparency International ranked the country 117th out of 180 countries on its latest corruption perception index in January.
While the Ukrainian government tries to handle the smuggling case, it is also currently busy with COVID-19 vaccination efforts as the country’s vaccine campaign kicked off last week when it received 500,000 doses of the AstraZeneca jab from India, as was reported by Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa). Fortunately, there have been no reports of vaccine smuggling so far.
Meanwhile, vaccines from Russia are prohibited in the country, due to the shattered relationship between the two nations as a result of Russia's annexation of the Crimea peninsula, though a vaccination program using the Russian Sputnik V vaccine has been underway in the separatist areas in the eastern part of the country for almost four weeks.
The authorities are aiming to vaccinate about half of the population of over 41 million by the end of the year, with the first phase of the roll-out offering jabs to medical workers, nursing home employees and front-line soldiers. President Volodymyr Zelensky, as chief commander, will also be inoculated together with soldiers. So far, Ukraine has recorded 1.3 million coronavirus cases.
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