KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s new president Volodymyr Zelensky came under fire Wednesday, just days after taking office, for appointing a chief of staff with links to a controversial oligarch.
Zelensky — a former comedian with no previous political experience — won a landslide victory last month on promises to reboot the political system and purge the influence of powerful oligarchs.
But late Tuesday he issued a decree choosing as his top aide Andriy Bogdan, until now a personal lawyer of tycoon Igor Kolomoisky.
During the presidential campaign Zelensky was forced to bat off accusations he was running as a front for the interests of Kolomoisky, who owns the television channel that broadcasts the performer’s shows.
Kolomoisky was accused by authorities of siphoning $5.5 billion from the country’s largest bank, PrivatBank, before it was nationalized in 2016.
According to reports, the oligarch returned to Ukraine last week after almost two years of self-imposed exile in Switzerland and Israel.
Critics said the appointment of Bogdan was not just politically suspect but also illegal, as he had held government posts under the ousted pro-Russian former president Viktor Yanukovych.
Those who served under Yanukovych are now banned by law from taking certain top positions.
“Zelensky violated the law,” MP Yegor Sobolev, one of the authors of the legislation, wrote on Facebook.
The president “puts himself above the law and shows the whole country his true attitude to the rule of law,” said Tetyana Kozachenko, who was also behind the legislation.
US special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker “strongly recommended not to appoint Bogdan” in a telephone conversation with Zelensky, local media reported.
Zelensky, 41, became Ukraine’s youngest post-Soviet president after beating incumbent Petro Poroshenko in an April vote.
On Tuesday, he dissolved the current parliament and called early elections for July 21, in a controversial move aimed at cementing his power.