The National Anti-Corruption Bureau (NABU) is conducting a pre-trial investigation into possible abuses in the procurement of vaccines against the Covid-19 coronavirus infection. Considering that the vaccination company in Ukraine did not start on the announced dates, now there is increased attention to this matter.
Why did the investigation begin?
As reported in the NABU Public Control Council, on February 3, the Bureau began a pre-trial investigation of possible abuses in the purchase of CoronaVac, a vaccine against coronavirus infection, produced by the Chinese company Sinovac Biotech at $ 17.85 per dose with the help of a private intermediary firm Lekhim.
The report states that initially the State Enterprise "Medical Procurement" negotiated the purchase of the vaccine at a price of approximately $ 3 per dose. The negotiation process, as noted in the NABU Public Control Council, was at the final stage.
"However, subsequently, Minister Maksym Stepanov manually stopped this process and instructed to start negotiations on the purchase of a Chinese vaccine from Sinovac Biotech," the statement said.
It also emphasizes that the announced purchase price of one dose of the vaccine was almost the highest in the world, and its "overall effectiveness" during the last round of testing in Brazil showed only 50.38%.
A few days later and. about. Maksym Hryschuk, head of the Specialized Anti-Corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAP), confirmed that NABU had indeed launched an investigation into the purchase of the vaccine, but did not provide any other details of this case.
In turn, NABU director Artem Sytnyk said that the bureau has long formed divisions that work in the specialization. So, there is a division of detectives who deal, among other things, with health issues.
"We have seen a lot of publications about vaccines, so we understand that they will expect an answer from us. Therefore, we will try to carry out this investigation as soon as possible and, if there are grounds, to prosecute those involved," Sytnyk explained.
February 16, the NABU clarified that the basis for the pre-trial investigation was the statement of the general director of the State Enterprise "Medical Procurement of Ukraine", the information from which the detectives were obliged and entered into the Unified Register of Pre-trial Investigations.
Position of Medical Procurement
Before moving on to the corresponding statement, we note that tensions between the specialized enterprise Medical Procurement of Ukraine and the head of the Ministry of Health were observed at the end of last year.
Initially, it was expected that this body would be engaged in the procurement of anti-coronavirus vaccines (in December 2020, a corresponding agreement was concluded with the state-owned enterprise).
However, as we said earlier, at the beginning of January Stepanov announced that Medical Procurement would be barred from purchasing the vaccine. The head of the Ministry of Health thus reacted to the publication on Facebook of director of the state enterprise Arsen Zhumadilov.
The latter then accused Stepanov of an unlawful requirement to coordinate all purchases of anti-coronavirus vaccines with the department. These actions of the minister, according to the director of Medical Procurement, led to the fact that subsequently only one procurement contract was signed, and the price of the drug is higher than it could have been.
"The minister, in fact, determined the supplier himself. According to my information, Ukraine could get a price at least $ 1 lower than the final price if the institution negotiated independently, creating competitive pressure on the supplier," Zhumadilov said.
Stepanov denied all these accusations, calling the words of the director of the state enterprise "conjectures that discredit Ukraine before the international community."
A new round of scandal has occurred now, when, according to Zhumadilov, a pre-trial investigation has begun. On February 13, journalist Yuriy Butusov published the full text of the appeal to NABU by the director of the Medical Procurement State Enterprise on his Facebook page.
From the publication, it follows that allegedly due to the minister's interference in the procurement process, Ukraine will have to overpay $ 1.9 million for the vaccine.
A brief extract from the statement of Zhumadilov, published by journalist Butusov
On December 10, 2020, the Ministry of Health authorized Medical Procurement State Enterprise to purchase vaccines from Covid-19. The corresponding budgetary appointments and medical and technical requirements for the drug were received only on December 22. Already on December 28, the Ministry of Health changed the requirements for vaccines.
Having received the order, Medical Procurement began negotiations with three vaccine suppliers (it is not specified which ones). However, on December 21, Stepanov, according to Zhumadilov in a statement, illegally instructed to coordinate any procurement actions with him, including those related to the choice of a supplier.
On December 23-24, the SE sent letters to agree on the terms of purchase agreements with two potential suppliers and the terms of a confidentiality agreement with one potential supplier (this is a condition for moving to a new stage of negotiations).
"For unknown reasons, the Minister of Health of Ukraine M. V. Stepanov made an independent decision on cooperation with CJSC Lekhim," the statement says. Zhumadilov notes that on December 29, 2020, a working meeting was held under the chairmanship of Stepanov with representatives of the Lekhim company, at which the terms of cooperation were agreed upon.
Since the introduction of Lekhim, the cost of a single dose of vaccine has increased by $ 1, compared with the price announced during previous market consultations. And Stepanov, according to Zhumadilov, was notified of this.
“That is, after the intervention of Minister Stepanov in the procurement processes, negotiations with the other two suppliers were, in fact, terminated and consent was given to fulfill a significant economic obligation, which significantly reduced competition and led to an increase in the cost of the vaccine by $ 1 per dose," said in a statement.
According to a statement, Lekhim representatives themselves reported that the price of the vaccine could have been lower.
We quote: "Considering that the total purchase of the vaccine is 1,913,316 doses, the deliberate actions of the Minister of Health of Ukraine MV Stepanov unreasonably overestimated the budget expenditures in the amount of 1,913,316 dollars."
That this is one of the tools of the information war, which allegedly from the very beginning of his tenure has been purposefully waged against him and his team in the ministry.
Stepanov assures that the consequences of these "attacks" will be felt by every Ukrainian. According to the minister, the country has already begun to lose the trust of vaccine manufacturers, as such situations "destroy the reputation of our state."
"Due to dirty information attacks, we have already begun to receive reluctant reactions from vaccine companies regarding future cooperation," Stepanov said.
At a morning briefing on February 16, Stepanov clarified that the Ministry of Health has already received a request from NABU to provide information about all negotiations that the department is conducting with manufacturers of vaccines from Covid-19. The minister assured that all documents will be transferred to the Bureau within 24 hours.
The NABU emphasizes that the very fact of starting an investigation is not evidence of guilt or confirmation of the commission of a crime. And he in no way can prevent the procurement of vaccines from suppliers, especially after the expiration of the promised start of vaccination.
The department also clarified that the detectives have not yet carried out any investigative actions that could be regarded as hindering the procurement of vaccines for Ukraine.
NABU promises to inform the public about the results of the investigation.