Former President Petro Poroshenko, who is the subject of several criminal investigations, could have been handed charges of abuse of office on Feb. 28. Instead, he narrowly escaped being charged, a source in law enforcement told the Kyiv Post. The source, who is familiar with the investigations, wasn’t authorized to speak to the press.

The State Investigation Bureau on Feb. 28 prepared charges against Poroshenko, but the Prosecutor General’s Office hesitated to approve them, reportedly because the documents were legally weak.

Ukrainian news site Ukrainska Pravda also reported that the Prosecutor General’s Office refused to approve the charges against Poroshenko due to their poor condition, citing a source close to the bureau.

Prosecutor General Ruslan Riaboshapka told the Kyiv Post that his office is still reviewing the charges.

“We haven’t yet made any decisions regarding it,” Riaboshapka said.

Poroshenko’s fortuitous — and perhaps temporary — escape from criminal charges is just the latest event in series of pre-trial investigations that have followed the former president since he left office. Some appear to be pushed by his political enemies.

Investigation saga

According to the law, the Prosecutor General’s Office must approve charges drafted by investigative bodies like the State Investigation Bureau and the National Anti-Corruption Bureau. Charges against members of parliament have to be signed by the prosecutor general personally.

Poroshenko, who now leads the 25-member European Solidarity faction in parliament, came to the State Investigation Bureau on Feb. 28 for a questioning. He spent most of the day at the bureau and left in the afternoon.

According to Kyiv Post sources familiar with the case, the charges concern two separate cases that allege abuse of office by the former president.

One case accuses Poroshenko of illegally appointing Serhiy Semochko, a tainted Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) official, as the deputy head of the Foreign Intelligence Service. According to the investigation, Poroshenko appointed Semochko in contravention of the law to a position that didn’t officially exist. Semochko was the subject of a journalist investigation that found that his family members held Russian citizenship and owned luxury property.

Additionally, the bureau filed charges alleging that Poroshenko illegally appointed two members of the High Council of Justice, the judiciary’s highest governing body, in May 2019 after a court banned him from doing so.

Poroshenko previously denied all accusations of wrongdoing, saying that all investigations against him were politically motivated. He says that they are a revenge plot by pro-Russian forces.

As of late November, the bureau was investigating 13 cases that implicated Poroshenko. Most of them concern suspected abuse of office and money laundering.

The sources of the Kyiv Post and Ukrainska Pravda said that the prosecutor’s office found the charges, known as notices of suspicion under Ukrainian law, to be in unsatisfactory condition and refused to give them the green light.

Riaboshapka did not confirm this, but told the Kyiv Post that it has happened before: His office had already received charges against Poroshenko drafted by the State Investigation Bureau and sent them back due to their unsatisfactory condition.

Riaboshapka’s critics — including Vitaly Tytych, the former head of the Public Integrity Council civic watchdog — have cast doubt on claims from the Prosecutor General’s Office that there are still no legal grounds for charging Poroshenko. They argue that the office is simply not interested in having Poroshenko convicted, but instead aims to use criminal cases to maintain political pressure on him.

The cases

After Poroshenko lost office in April, the State Investigation Bureau began opening cases against the now former president.

As of November, it had opened a total of 13 cases involving Poroshenko. Most were opened at the request of controversial lawyer and politician Andriy Portnov, a former deputy head of President Viktor Yanukovych’s administration.

Portnov, who left Ukraine after his boss was ousted in the 2014 EuroMaidan Revolution, has a personal grudge against Poroshenko.

Read More: After leaving office, Poroshenko faces criminal investigations

Over six months after the cases were opened, the bureau drafted two notices of suspicion against Poroshenko.

The Semochko case goes back to 2018, when Poroshenko appointed the tainted official as the first deputy head of counterintelligence on July 31, even though the job didn’t exist under the law – there was already one deputy head of the agency.

During Semochko’s tenure, the Foreign Intelligence Service had two first deputy heads, and both received a paycheck for their work.

In October 2018, the former official came under scrutiny when investigative journalists from the Bihus.info news site found that Semochko’s relatives had Russian passports and visited Russian-occupied Crimea regularly. Semochko’s family also own millions worth of real estate near Kyiv, which they obtained in recent years. Semochko was fired in April 2019.

The second notice of suspicion deals with Poroshenko appointing two people to the High Council of Justice. In April, the Kyiv Administrative District Court banned Poroshenko from appointing them because the competition procedures by which they were chosen violated the law. The appointees in question were soon fired by Poroshenko’s successor.

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