Ukraine president Poroshenko accused of 'state treason' as rival attempts impeachment process

Allegations of smuggling and corruption in the military sphere come a month before elections

Oliver Carroll
Tuesday 26 February 2019 18:35 GMT
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had improved his position in the polls before scandal hit.
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko had improved his position in the polls before scandal hit. (AFP/Getty Images)

Ukrainian presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko has initiated impeachment proceedings against the sitting president Petro Poroshenko — a little more than a month before the two go head to head in elections.

Ms Tymoshenko, a former prime minister, made her move on the back of a new investigation that linked Mr Poroshenko’s entourage to an embezzlement scheme involving the smuggling of military spare parts from Russia.

Speaking in the Verkhovna Rada — Ukraine’s parliament — on Tuesday, Ms Tymoshenko said the findings were “consistent with state treason.”

Given the lack of time before the elections and parliamentary arithmetic which still favours the president, the move has little prospect for success.

But the scandal has hit Mr Poroshenko just at a moment when he appeared to be gaining electoral momentum — if polls are to be believed, pipping Ms Tymoshenko to second spot behind comedian Volodymyr Zelensky. The fall-out may yet decide who wins on 31 March.

For a country at war, the revelations made in the investigation are shocking enough.

The authors of the report, a group of independent Ukrainian journalists, link a close Poroshenko associate with fraudulent arms contracts that eventually cost the military £7 million.

The scheme involved the selling of spare parts for tanks at three times market value. Not only this, the parts were smuggled in from Russia, a hostile power.

While the contracts were signed by a 27-year-old called Ihor Hladovsky, the investigation concludes that they were in fact facilitated by his father, Oleh Hladovskiy, the deputy chair of Ukraine's security council and a key presidential ally.

Profits were siphoned away through three companies, including one that earlier belonged to the president. This, the journalists suggested, was evidence the corruption “likely went higher.”

Speaking with The Independent, journalist Denys Bihous, who led the investigation, said President Poroshenko was implicated by design.

“If he really didn’t want to know about it, then he’d find a way of not knowing about it,” he said. “But Hladkovskiy is an old, old friend. He got his government job because of this friendship.”

Sergii Leshchenko, a member of parliament and a Poroshenko critic, described Mr Hladkovskiy as one of the president’s “closest associates” in politics — pointing to how the two had bought holiday homes close to each other in Marbella.

“This isn’t the first time president had been implicated in corruption,” he said, “but what gives the revelations more weight is that they come a month before elections, concern corruption in the military sphere, and involve Russia.”

According to Mr Leshchenko, still notionally a member of Mr Poroshenko’s fraction in parliament, Ms Tymoshenko’s proposal was a “fair price” for what the president had done. Mr Poroshenko “deserved not only impeachment but jail,” he said.

Yulia Tymoshenko
Yulia Tymoshenko (EPA)

In a sign of the seriousness of the scandal engulfing Ukraine’s president, on Tuesday Oleh Hladkovskiy was temporarily suspended from his position on the Ukrainian Security Council.

Writing on Facebook, spokesman Svyatoslav Tsegolko said that Mr Poroshenko supported the suspension. He also asked law enforcement to undergo an urgent review of the information contained in the investigation.

Those concessions are unlikely to make Mr Poroshenko's problem disappear.

On Tuesday, another presidential rival, the Lviv mayor Andriy Sadovyi, piled on the pressure by concurring Mr Poroshenko had committed an offence “impeachable in any other country.” But his solution was not the “PR” favoured by Ms Tymoshenko.

Instead, Ukrainians should “to declare their own impeachment on 31 March.”

USA: Scuffles erupt at anti-Poroshenko protest during UN address

Mayor Sadovyi remains a rank outsider for the presidential post. Ms Tymoshenko, on the other hand, will hope her intuitive move will reverse what had up to now been a disappointing campaign. In the space of a month, the one-time poll frontrunner has seen her rating overtaken by her two main rivals — comedian Volodymyr Zelensky and now incumbent Petro Poroshenko too.

Bihous said he had few illusions about the electoral sensitivity of his work.

In the days leading up to publication, their office was conspicuously staked out by security officers, he said. They arrived in cars with replacement number-plates, "disappearing only when we approached."

But their unwelcome presence would not get in the way of publishing a second and final part of the investigation, he said.

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