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Ukraine's Zelenskiy under pressure to veto asset declaration law with loophole

FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy addresses parliament, in Kyiv

By Dan Peleschuk

KYIV (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of Ukrainians have asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to send back legislation critics believe hampers an effort to hold officials accountable by delaying a requirement to publicly declare their assets.

Parliament voted on Tuesday to restore the declaration rule, which was suspended after Russia's 2022 invasion as a security precaution, but - in a key loophole - to keep the disclosures closed to the public for another year.

Anti-graft campaigners and opposition lawmakers among others believe that defeats the primary purpose of the measure, which was first introduced as a showcase, pro-transparency reform after the 2014 Maidan Revolution that ousted a pro-Russian president.

A public petition asking Zelenskiy to veto the amended measure had collected more than 83,000 signatures by Friday - well beyond the 25,000 needed for presidential consideration.

Corruption remains a top concern among Ukrainians, who have traditionally harboured deep distrust of most public officials.

On Thursday, investigative outlet BIHUS Info published a report revealing a slew of flashy cars allegedly acquired by lawmakers during Russia's invasion. Ukrainians have dug into their own pockets to support the war effort.

"Now it's clear why deputies hide the fortunes they have made during the war," the Anti-Corruption Action Centre, a leading Ukrainian NGO, posted on X on Friday in response to the report.

The International Monetary Fund had singled out the return of mandatory asset declarations as one of several benchmarks for paying out part of a $15.6 billion IMF assistance package.

Fighting graft is also a requirement for Ukrainian accession to the European Union, and Zelenskiy's government has declared it a priority alongside repelling Russia's invasion.

Observers including Transparency International Ukraine have suggested the IMF would not approve of Tuesday's legislation. The global lender has not yet publicly commented on the matter.

Zelenskiy said this week that he would consult with his deputy prime minister for European integration before signing the legislation.

Yaroslav Yurchyshyn, deputy head of the parliamentary anti-corruption committee, said he is optimistic that pressure from civil society and Kyiv's international partners could push Zelenskiy to send the legislation back for revisions.

"This is the only effective method to make ambitious changes in Ukraine, and it works," he said.

(Reporting by Dan Peleschuk; editing by Mark Heinrich)