KYIV -- The mayor of Odesa has been charged with illegally acquiring several plots of land in Ukraine’s largest port city, the latest in a series of criminal cases opened against him.
Hennadiy Trukhanov has been a target for years for anti-corruption activists, who say he and influential business allies have turned the Black Sea port into their own private fiefdom.
In a post to Facebook on October 6, Prosecutor-General Iryna Venediktova said Trukhanov and the four other men had been officially notified of the charges. She did not identify the other four individuals.
"This is a very important case for both the Odesa region and the country as a whole. Odesa has never been a simple place, and it would be naive to think that cases there are usually investigated as anywhere else," Venediktova wrote.
"The investigators managed to document the unlawful activities of a broad range of people including the mayor, an ex-chief prosecutor of the region and a businessman who...manipulated them any way he wanted, like in a puppet theater," she wrote.
Trukhanov, who remains free pending issuance of an arrest warrant, had no immediate comment on the new charges.
Elected to the post in 2014, Trukhanov has been in the center of corruption allegations for years.
Trukhanov clashed openly with the governor of the Odesa region, Mikheil Saakashvili, after the former Georgian president was appointed head of the region in May 2015.
Saakashvili accused Trukhanov of corruption and pledged to bring him to justice. But Saakashvili quit in November 2016, accusing the government of President Petro Poroshenko's government of undermining his efforts to fight corruption and carry out reforms.
In 2017, Saakashvili was stripped of his Ukrainian citizenship and deported in February 2018. One day after the deportation, Trukhanov returned to Ukraine and was detained at the Kyiv airport amid allegations of embezzlement.
The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine said at the time that a deputy mayor and two Odesa city-council members were also suspects in the case.
Trukhanov and other suspects were later released from custody after several lawmakers vouched for them. The trial on that case has been pending since then.
In 2018, the BBC reported that a Ukrainian crime gang used offshore firms in British tax havens to secretly invest millions of pounds in London real estate. Trukhanov was one of several identified as part of the gang, according to the report.
Trukhanov was also identified as a member of an organized crime group in an Italian state police report in 1998, according to news reports.
Odesa is Ukraine's largest port, and the country's third-largest city. For years stretching back into the Soviet era, it has been known as a haven for smuggling and other criminal activities.
Odesa Mayor Charged With Corruption, In Latest Criminal Case