On Friday, the office of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky accused his predecessor, Petro Poroshenko, of fleeing criminal charges back home, and of engaging in self-promotion that harms the country just as it faces the threat of a new military attack by Russia.
The statement by Mikhailo Podolak, an adviser in the president’s office, came in response to an interview with Politico in which Poroshenko insisted that the “high treason” charges against him amounted to politically motivated prosecution – an act of revenge by Zelensky, the actor and comedian who defeated Poroshenko in 2019, depriving him of a second five-year term.
But even as Zelensky’s office drew its criticism, Ukraine’s GBI announced that a court in Kiev had scheduled a hearing in the Poroshenko case for Monday at 11 a.m.
Poroshenko, one of Ukraine’s richest citizens, is now a member of parliament and leader of an opposition party called European Solidarity. He was charged with “high treason” by helping to organize the sale of large quantities of coal from the war-torn eastern Donbass region in 2014 and 2015, which prosecutors say helped fund Russian-backed separatists. In the interview, Poroshenko called the accusations “nonsense” and said he would return to Ukraine on Monday as planned, despite the risk of arrest.
Some Western diplomats are upset that Poroshenko chose to come to Brussels this week and drew attention to the bitter political fighting in Ukraine at the same moment that NATO allies were confronting Russia over its massive military build-up along the Ukrainian border.
In the statement, Podolyak said that Poroshenko was not above the law and suggested that the Ukrainian authorities resist any external pressure to drop the charges against Poroshenko, as this would mean interfering with an independent investigation.
“The current situation of parliamentarian Petro Poroshenko … does not give the privilege to ignore the requirements of the law and court orders,” said Podolak. “Unfortunately, Petro Poroshenko in an interview with foreign journalists did not mention that he fled from law enforcement agencies abroad for a month when he simply saw that the investigators had come to perform their duties and call the ex-president for legal proceedings.”
He added: “Unfortunately, Petro Poroshenko uses foreign journalists simply to create pretexts for personal PR in Ukraine and to show in the media that he is supposed to have ‘good journalism’ and ‘a lot of things to do’ in Europe. One of the basic principles For any democracy is the equality of all citizens before the law and the courts. We do not want Europe to go back to the times when the high political or economic condition of a particular person, including the former president, placed him above the law and freed him from the need to comply with court orders.”
Podolac accused Poroshenko of tarnishing Ukraine’s international image. “Finally, the worst thing is that the protectionist method chosen by Petro Poroshenko appears to be a deliberate and unjustified distortion of his country’s reputation in foreign political markets,” he said.
The Poroshenko case echoes the imprisonment of Yulia Tymoshenko, the former Ukrainian prime minister, who was imprisoned during the tenure of her political enemy, former President Viktor Yanukovych. Several EU governments lobbied hard for her release, but she was only released after Yanukovych fled Ukraine in the aftermath of the 2013-2014 Maidan Revolution. Leaders of former Soviet states have also faced arrest after leaving office, including former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who is now in prison.
In Ukraine, documents show that the country’s prosecutor took time off on the day the charges against Poroshenko were registered last month, apparently to avoid taking responsibility for the case. But Poroshenko’s critics say his business has done well during his five years in office and that he should face a full investigation. In coal sales, he was accused of conspiring with Viktor Medvedchuk, one of President Vladimir Putin’s closest friends in Ukraine.