Former President Poroshenko returns to Ukraine despite risk of arrest

Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko returned to his country on Monday, despite the threat of being arrested for “high treason”, a case that could provoke an internal political crisis amid tensions with Russia.

Poroshenko, who had been out of Ukraine for a month, hurried through passport control, later claiming that border guards had tried to keep him out.

After a brief speech to several thousand of his supporters gathered outside the airport, Poroshenko headed to a Kiev court for a hearing to decide whether to order the former head of state and opponent of President Volodymyr Zelensky to be remanded in custody.

During the session, the prosecution asked the court to authorize the arrest of the former president or to impose a bail of about 30 million euros accompanied by the imposition of an electronic bracelet.

In addition, he asked the judges to force Poroshenko to remain in Kiev and to hand over his passport.

The authorities “are very afraid of us,” Poroshenko had declared before the hearing. “They have directed all their efforts not to the protection of the State against the aggressor [ruso], but to the fight against the opposition,” he told a thousand of his supporters in front of the court.

Accompanied by his lawyers and several deputies in the courtroom, the former president also accused the authorities of favoring Russia with the accusations against him.

The enemy “wants to defeat us by tearing our country apart and sowing conflict,” he declared.

– The main opponent –

Poroshenko accuses his successor of having ordered his trial to “divert attention” from the real problems of the country.

The 56-year-old former president is the main rival of the current president and one of the richest men in Ukraine.

The authorities suspect that during his presidency he had business links with pro-Russian separatists in the east, which would constitute an act of “high treason”.

The confrontation occurs while Ukraine fears an invasion from its neighbor Russia, which has been concentrating troops and armor on its borders for months.

Moscow denies any plans for a military offensive, but demands that the Americans and Europeans commit never to accept Ukraine’s entry into NATO under penalty of retaliation. A claim rejected so far.

In this context, Kiev on Sunday accused Russia of being behind a major cyberattack that targeted the websites of several ministries last week.

Poroshenko, whose fortune is estimated at $1.6 billion by Forbes magazine, led the country from 2014 to 2019 before being defeated by Zelensky.

The former president, who is now a deputy, has been implicated in dozens of court cases. In December, the authorities announced that he was suspected of “high treason”.

Poroshenko rejects the accusations and the United States, Ukraine’s main ally against Russia, said it is “closely following” the case.

His return recalls that of Russian opponent Alexei Navalny in Moscow exactly one year ago. Navalni has been detained ever since.

– Frozen assets –

In early January, a Kiev court ordered the freezing of the assets of the former president, who owns a large confectionery company, Roshen, and two television channels.

He is suspected of facilitating the purchase of coal from companies in eastern Ukraine, controlled by pro-Russian separatists at war with Kiev.

The events date back to 2014 and 2015 and represent about 48 million euros (54.8 million dollars). The crime is punishable by 15 years in prison.

Ukraine has been experiencing a conflict in the east of the country since 2014 between Kiev forces and pro-Russian separatists that has left more than 13,000 dead and began after Moscow annexed the Crimean peninsula.


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