Ukraine’s former president, Petro Poroshenko, will be questioned by the State Bureau of Investigation (SBI) on Tuesday (30 June) ahead of his court hearing the next day.
On 18 June, the district court postponed a hearing aimed at choosing which measure to impose on Poroshenko after the prosecution asked to change the measure of restraint from arrest to a “personal obligation”. That would prevent the former president from leaving the country.
Poroshenko is suspected of abuse of office by illegally pressuring the then-chief of Ukraine’s Foreign Intelligence Service, Yehor Bozhok, into appointing Serhiy Semоchko as his deputy.
Bozhok was suspended from his current position as deputy foreign minister earlier this week at his own request, pending the outcome of the investigation.
Poroshenko is involved in 26 investigations, a number of which were launched after a wave of criminal complaints submitted by Andriy Portnov, the former deputy head in the administration of ex-President Viktor Yanukovych, ousted during the Euromaidan revolution of 2014.
Portnov spent five years in exile after the revolution and only returned to Ukraine last year. Poroshenko denies any wrongdoing and called the probes selective justice ‘at the orders of [Volodymyr] Zelensky’, the current president.
Zelensky told Canadian newspaper The Globe and Mail earlier this week that the accusations are a political move.
“We have local elections ahead, this is another of his great political cases. He wants to be a victim, he wants everyone to believe that there is political persecution in Ukraine.”
“Most people in Ukraine understand that all this is like a political theatre.”
“I am not interested in Mr. Poroshenko, I am not interested in the issue of political persecution, because I do not do that,” he added.
The previous prosecutor-general, Ruslan Riaboshapka, whose reluctance to authorise a preliminary investigation against Poroshenko was cited as the last straw that led to his dismissal, earlier described the investigations against the former president as “legal trash”.
“The document was all crossed out. Not only that, but there was, in fact, no evidence to prove the crimes of which the fifth president is suspected,” Riaboshapka told LB.ua in May.
Riaboshapka enjoyed widespread support from Ukrainian civil society and anti-corruption organisations but was sacked by the new Ukrainian parliament in March, raising concerns from international observers and anti-corruption watchdogs.
Riaboshapka’s replacement, Prosecutor General Iryna Venediktova was Zelensky’s former adviser and lawmaker from his party until becoming the acting head of the SBI.
Several European and Transatlantic partners have raised concern at the notice of charges against Poroshenko.
Leading MEPs said in a letter that “legal proceedings should only be based on facts and must not be used as means of political infighting.”
“The case of former President Poroshenko will be closely followed in this house and we trust Ukraine’s current administration will hold itself to highest standards of the rule of law and justice,” they added.
Former European Council President, now leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) Donald Tusk wrote on Twitter that his political group “is very concerned by political cases against former President Poroshenko.”
“The charges should not resemble politically motivated persecution, nor be politically motivated against select political opponents.”
The US embassy in Kyiv said that “all citizens in a democracy deserve to be treated equally and fairly under the law.”
“The justice system should not be used for the purpose of settling political scores.”
“I have at the time followed almost all of the hearings in the case of Yuliya Tymoshenko,” German ambassador to Ukraine Anka Feldhusen said, referring to the 2011 trial and imprisonment of Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.
“I really hope that I will not have to face such an experience again.”
“Ukraine has a major image problem, and prosecuting former presidents is an unusual tactic to persuade foreign investors to put money in a country with mickey mouse courts,” said Melinda Haring, Deputy Director of Eurasia Center at US think tank Atlantic Council.
[Edited by Sam Morgan]