The case is the latest in a series of prosecutions brought against high-profile politicians
Petro Poroshenko, who served as the president of Ukraine until 2019, is facing an acrimonious criminal prosecution on a string of charges, including treason, which could see him put behind bars for more than a decade if convicted.
The former leader, who is also one of the country's wealthiest oligarchs, returned to the country on Monday to face the allegations. Poroshenko, who has amassed an estimated $1.6 billion fortune from industries such as confectionery, denies the claims and has branded the prosecution politically motivated, vowing to fight them. Now, though, Ukraine’s ‘chocolate king’ has been ordered to surrender his passport and wear an electronic monitoring tag to ensure he does not flee the country.
What are the charges? The indictment into which hearings began in court in Kiev on Monday alleges that while in office, Poroshenko took part in a scheme to buy 1.5 billion hryvnia ($54 million) worth of coal from the breakaway Donbass in 2014-15, despite restrictions put in place after the two regions seceded from Ukraine and fought a war with Kiev. The deal, prosecutors say, was illegal, and they have accused him of treason and financing terrorism through the purported transaction.
If found guilty, he could face up to 15 years behind bars. To avoid being sent to prison, the former president needs to give up his passport, post bail, and agree to wear an electronic monitoring bracelet, prosecutors told the presiding judge at the Pechersky District Court in Kiev on Monday.
Another suspect in the case identified by prosecutors is serving MP Viktor Medvedchuk, the leader of the largest non-government party in the Ukrainian parliament, Opposition Platform – For Life. He was placed under house arrest last year after also being charged with treason, but the specific charges, believed to be related to his extensive business interests, are still under wraps. Previously, the ex-president said that 130 criminal cases were initiated against him, but around 40 of them were closed. In 2020, Ukraine’s State Bureau of Investigation (DBR) announced that Poroshenko was a suspect in a case over the alleged illegal transfer of valuable paintings across the country’s borders. In June of that same year, he failed to show up for questioning about his alleged illegal appointment of Sergey Semochko as the deputy chief of the Foreign Intelligence Service. Who is Petro Poroshenko? Poroshenko led Ukraine from 2014 to 2019, pledging during his election campaign that Ukrainians would soon be “living the new way.” However, his term in power started off amid a worsening conflict in the east of the country. He promised on the day after the election that he would bring about a swift end to the war in Donbass, claiming that efforts to push out militants and target ‘terrorists’ “cannot and should not last two or three months. It should and will last hours.”
However, a lasting settlement to end the conflict proved elusive, and the standoff between Kiev and the two self-proclaimed ‘People’s Republics’ in Donetsk and Lugansk has only worsened in recent years.
Corruption allegations also hung over his head during his time in office, particularly after Poroshenko refused to give up control of a number of the companies he owned, including the influential 5th Channel TV station. He also faced accusations of profiting from his position, such as by securing lucrative supply contracts, or influencing the justice system in his favor. At the same time, the Ukrainian hryvnia nosedived in value, losing about 70% of its worth on the currency markets during the first nine months of his presidency. Poroshenko ultimately suffered a crushing defeat in the 2019 presidential elections, when prominent TV comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won an unprecedented share of the vote, having entered the race as a rank outsider. Less than a quarter of voters backed the incumbent leader in his bid for a second term. However, Poroshenko did draw praise domestically for securing visa-free travel for Ukrainians with the EU, reforming some state institutions, and strengthening Ukraine’s army against purported threats from neighboring Russia. Is the prosecution ‘political’? Poroshenko insists he is innocent of all charges and has accused his successor, Zelensky, of attempting to smear his reputation to distract from falling approval ratings and worsening economic woes, as well as criticism of his handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The tycoon has accused prosecutors of “shamefully” seeking to “divide” the country. However, prosecutors insist he is guilty of a long-running pattern of wrongdoing, stemming from corruption to abuse of office, in an effort to further enrich himself.
At the same time, though, Poroshenko is not the only Ukrainian politician to claim that the rule of law is being undermined in the country. Medvedchuk, who is accused of taking part in the former leader’s purported scheme, was charged with high treason last year. In an exclusive interview with RT, he alleged that prosecution for
“crimes like treason and espionage is commonplace. Just as at one time there was a charge of hooliganism, now we can be charged with treachery or spying.” According to Medvedchuk, the crackdown on him and fellow opposition MP Taras Kozak is a response to Zelensky’s growing unpopularity, which comes from “unprofessional management of the economic and social spheres, as well as the fight against coronavirus. It is because of the lack of peace that he promised in the elections, the lack of return of Donbass to Ukraine.” He accuses the current president of attempting to establish “a dictatorship.” In June last year, Zelensky’s government was criticized in a report from the office of the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, which noted that “members and staff of opposition political parties and their supporters faced criminal charges that carry severe penalties, for alleged illegal activities, including high treason.” Officials said that “respect of fair trial rights remained an issue” in the country, and resolved it would be “following these cases, as well as existing tensions between supporters and opponents of various parties, which has significantly intensified following these developments.”
The hearings are expected to resume on Wednesday.
You can share this story on social media: