Sunday, May 22

Ukraine: ex-president Poroshenko, accused of treason, remains free

Ukrainian justice decided on Wednesday to keep ex-president and opponent Petro Poroshenko, accused of high treason, free, while prohibiting him from leaving the country.

The decision was announced by Judge Oleksiï Sokolov. Reacting to the announcement, Mr. Poroshenko and his relatives sang the national anthem in the courtroom of the Kiev court, according to AFP journalists on the spot.

The prosecution had demanded his imprisonment, except payment of a deposit of around 30 million euros.

The judge nevertheless ordered the main opponent of President Volodymyr Zelensky to return his passports, without which he will not be able to leave Ukraine. Mr. Poroshenko’s lawyers immediately announced that they would appeal this decision.

“Dear friends, I congratulate you,” the former head of state and billionaire told the press, surrounded by his wife and several deputies from his party. “We came here to show that we are not afraid, that the truth is with us”.

He accuses President Zelensky of having hatched the lawsuits against him to get rid of a political rival, “discredit” him and “divide” the country with this affair despite the threat of an imminent Russian invasion.

The proceedings against Mr. Poroshenko are closely followed by Westerners, Ukraine having been condemned in the past for persecution deemed political against former senior state officials.

“One of Moscow’s longstanding goals has been to try to sow divisions between and within our countries,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned during a Wednesday meeting in Kyiv with Mr. Zelensky, in an apparent allusion to the Poroshenko affair.

“We cannot and will not let them do this,” he continued.

More than a thousand supporters of Mr Poroshenko gathered outside the court awaiting the decision. Clashes with law enforcement briefly broke out, injuring a policeman and a protester, police said.

The protesters then moved towards the presidency before dispersing.

56-year-old billionaire Poroshenko returned to Ukraine on Monday after a month abroad, despite the threat of arrest.

Investigators suspect Poroshenko worked with wealthy pro-Russian tycoon Viktor Medvedchuk, a close associate of Russian President Vladimir Putin, to facilitate the 2014 and 2015 purchase of coal from companies in eastern Ukraine, at the hands of pro-Russian separatists who are at war with Kiev.

According to the prosecution, the former president had thus de facto used state funds to finance the separatists, an act of “high treason”, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

Mr Poroshenko, whose relations with Russia were terrible during his presidency, notably led the country at the peak of the conflict.

Now a deputy, the former president is cited in dozens of court cases.

During his time in power, he brought his country closer to Westerners, but failed to stem corruption and poverty there.

Mr Zelensky, a former comedian, beat him heavily in the 2019 presidential election but is struggling to eradicate those same scourges.

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