The head of a major Ukrainian state bank has said he is being investigated in connection with a confrontation with RFE/RL investigative journalists during an interview this week.
Yeven Metsher, who temporarily stepped down as CEO of Ukreximbank earlier this week, said he was given an official notice on Thursday.
“I stand ready to fully cooperate with the investigation. I firmly believe that freedom of expression is an important element of Ukraine’s development,” Metser wrote in a post on his Facebook page.
“Once again, I would like to offer my sincere apologies to the journalist community and the journalists personally involved”.
A spokesman for the Kiev regional prosecutor’s office said the bank’s chief spokesman was also informed that he was a suspect. According to Ukrainian law, this means that two people have been officially charged with a crime.
A day earlier, Metser announced that he was temporarily stepping down as CEO of the bank, which serves as Ukraine’s main export-import bank.
The incident occurred at Metscher’s office in Kiev on Monday during an interview with reporters for Schemy (Schemy), a joint investigative project run by RFE/RL and UA: Percy Television.
A reporter, Kyrylo Ovsyaniy, asked Metsher a question about a controversial loan given to a client.
Metsher later instructed security personnel to stop the journalists and take away their cameras and video material. Security guards forcibly confiscated two cameras and memory cards of videographer Alexander Mazur.
Radio Liberty is part of the US Agency for Global Media, which also oversees Voice of America.
Journalists were allowed to leave after being ordered to remove the video files from their memory cards. But the technicians of the schemes later managed to show the video of the whole incident.
The clip shows how Metsar instructs his spokesperson and security personnel to collect cameras and memory cards. Bank personnel can be heard saying that the memory card should be “cleaned to zero.”
Officials including President Volodymyr Zelensky and the office of Prosecutor-General Irina Venediktova condemned the attack.
The country’s national police said they had launched a criminal investigation.
“Journalists should be allowed to do their jobs without fear of physical intimidation or harassment,” RFE/RL President Jamie Fly said in a statement after the attack.
Ukrayinska Pravda contributed to this report.