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Ukraine moves closer to corruption trial of former tax chief

FILE PHOTO: Ukraine's tax and customs service head Nasirov who is under investigation over the suspected embezzlement attends a court hearing in Kiev

KYIV (Reuters) - Ukraine has moved a step closer to putting former tax and customs chief Roman Nasirov on trial on corruption charges after anti-graft investigators referred his case to court.

The National Anti-Corruption Bureau of Ukraine (NABU) did not name Nasirov in a statement on Wednesday announcing its decision, but described details that made clear it was referring to his case.

Nasirov, 44, would be the highest-profile former official to go on trial for corruption since Ukraine launched a crackdown on graft as it tries to join the European Union. An investigation was launched against Nasirov in 2017, when he ceased to serve as head of the State Fiscal Service (SFS).

Reuters could not immediately reach Nasirov for comment on the NABU statement. He has previously denied any wrongdoing.

NABU said in an online statement that it and the office of the Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor (SAP) had completed an investigation into bribery allegations against a former head of the SFS and an adviser.

"The investigation has so far established that the head of the SFS (2015-2016) received illegal benefits to the amount of $5.5 million and more than 21 million euros of illegal benefits for VAT (value added tax) refunds to agricultural holding companies," it said.

As part of moves to clamp down on corruption even while fighting Russian forces, Ukraine placed the former head of the Supreme Court in pre-trial detention last week in a $2.7 million bribery investigation.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alex Richardson)