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11 May, 2021 15:58

Ukrainian opposition leader Medvedchuk to face prosecution for 'treason' as Kiev's security services begin manhunt for him

Ukrainian opposition leader Medvedchuk to face prosecution for 'treason' as Kiev's security services begin manhunt for him

Security forces in Ukraine have begun searching for Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the country's largest opposition party, after state prosecutors announced their intention to bring charges against him for alleged high treason.

On Tuesday, Ukrainian Prosecutor General Irina Venediktova wrote on Facebook that she had “signed charges against two People's Deputies of the Ukrainian Parliament.” She claimed that the decision came after lengthy investigations, and sufficient evidence had been collected to charge Medvedchuk with both treason and attempted theft of "national resources in Ukrainian Crimea [sic]."

It is believed that the case relates in part to Medvedchuk's business interests in Russia, and Venediktova told her followers that they could conclude from the decision to prosecute that "you cannot consider Crimea to be part of another state."

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However, the official added, a search of Medvedchuk's house by the SBU, Ukraine's successor to the Soviet-era KGB security agency, failed to find the politician and his whereabouts are now unknown. Venediktova added that its officers are now taking "appropriate measures" to try to detain him.

In a response posted by the politician's press service later on Tuesday, his allies said that the decision to target him was unjust and insisted that a court should rule before action is taken.

In February, Medvedchuk told RT that an earlier set of charges leveled against him over alleged links to "financing terrorist groups" were politically motivated and "without any foundation at present."

“Unfortunately, [prosecution for] crimes like treason and espionage is commonplace." he added. However, at the time, he played down speculation that he could flee the country to avoid a potential lengthy jail sentence. "I feel like I’m ready to fight – to fight against arbitrariness, against repression, against falsification… I am prepared to stand up to these threats," he said.

Medvedchuk's political party, Opposition Platform - For Life, has the largest number of deputies outside of the government. Receiving much of its support from ethnic Russian speakers in the east and south of the country, the group has advocated better relations with Moscow and been critical of the attempts to turn to the West that followed the 2014 Maidan.

Earlier this year, Medvedchuk's party topped a national poll of voters, just weeks before the first tranche of charges were unveiled. That move followed a decision in Kiev to shutter a Russian-language news group owned by his associate, Taras Kozak, who is also now facing treason charges. A government spokesman described the crackdown as being "about effectively countering fakes and foreign propaganda.” However, critics noted that the channels affected produced much of their content within the country for Ukrainian Russian-speakers.

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