Masked agents raid Ukraine state gas firm

5th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

The chaotic scenes at the building in central Kiev appeared to be the latest twist in the long running saga of Ukraine's payments to neighbouring Russia for gas imports against a background of political feuding.

Kiev -- Around 20 Ukrainian security service agents in masks and combat dress on Wednesday burst into the headquarters of the state gas company Naftogaz as part of a criminal enquiry into illegal gas seizures.

The chaotic scenes at the building in central Kiev appeared to be the latest twist in the long running saga of Ukraine's payments to neighbouring Russia for gas imports against a background of political feuding.

"They pushed their way through the guards to enter,” Naftogaz spokesman Valentin Zemlyansky told AFP. “They are searching and blocking certain offices.”

The SBU was searching for contracts with Gazprom, the Russian energy giant whose standoff with Naftogaz sparked the crisis that seriously disrupted gas supplies to Europe in January, Zemlyansky said.

"Already yesterday, SBU agents came to Naftogaz and attempted to seize documents including contracts signed with Gazprom," he said.

A spokeswoman for the SBU -- the Ukrainian successor to the former Soviet KGB -- confirmed that its agents had moved into the headquarters to remove documents as part of a criminal investigation into Naftogaz.

"SBU employees who are carrying out an investigation into the seizure of 6.3 billion cubic metres of gas by Naftogaz personnel aimed for transit entered the company's headquarters to seize documents," said spokeswoman Marina Ostapenko.

An AFP journalist saw 12 masked men, armed with submachine guns and handguns and dressed in black, at the Naftogaz building in central Kiev. Some were seen outside the office of one of the company's accountants.

Zemlyansky said that some of the men were outside the office of Naftogaz deputy chief Igor Didenko.

Ostapenko said the presence of armed agents was necessary and that the raid was being carried out "in accordance with the law." The men arrived at Naftogaz at 1030 GMT.

Several of the men, who confirmed they were SBU agents, wore the stripes of the elite Alfa special forces on their uniforms. The Alfa forces operate under the auspices of the SBU.

Several members of the Ukrainian parliament arrived at the Naftogaz offices and scuffled with the SBU agents, the AFP journalist said.

At least one of the parliamentarians belonged to the party of Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who has been engaged in a venomous political feud over the last few months with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko.

Yushchenko oversees the SBU.

Much of their feud has focused on Naftogaz's dispute with Gazprom, which sparked January's gas crisis in which more than a dozen European countries were deprived of Russian gas for close to two weeks.

The crisis was concluded by a contract between Naftogaz and Gazprom after Tymoshenko hammered out a deal with her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin.

That deal was sharply criticised by Yushchenko, whose office repeatedly protested that the agreement was a sell-out for Ukraine.

Anya Tsukanova/AFP/Expatica

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