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Prosecution of Ukraine’s ex-President Poroshenko, explained

Petro Poroshenko. Source: Ukrayinska pravda
Prosecution of Ukraine’s ex-President Poroshenko, explained
Edited by: Sonia Maryn
Is Ukraine’s prosecution of its ex-President Poroshenko political persecution or well-grounded in evidence? We examine the facts of the accusation and the events that led to the charges, as well as Poroshenko’s legal defense team’s arguments.

The latest allegations against the former president Petro Poroshenko, under which prosecutors seek his arrest, claim that Poroshenko allowed Viktor Medvedchuk, the wealthiest (shadow) leader of the pro-Russian party Opposition Platform – For life, to import coal from occupied Donbas in 2015, thus committing state treason while enriching Medvedchuk and financing Donbas occupiers. The opposition denied allegations, claiming it is political persecution of Poroshenko.

Details of the accusation as presented by Prosecutors

According to the State Bureau of Investigatons (DBR), the case was investigated “in cooperation with the [Security Service of Ukraine] SBU and under the procedural guidance of the Prosecutor General’s Office.” They investigated “a criminal scheme to supply coal from the temporarily occupied territories” of LNR and DNR in 2015, worth in total UAH 1.5 billion ($54 million).

In particular, “the fifth President of Ukraine is suspected of facilitating the activities of the terrorist organizations LNR and DNR by acting with the prior conspiracy of a group of individuals, including representatives of the top leadership of the Russian Federation.”

The accusation of Poroshenko is inseparable from other accusations, according to the DBR investigation which claims to have uncovered a conspiracy.

  • In September 2021, the SBU arrested businessman Serhiy Kuziara, who organized supplies of coal extracted from the L/DNR to Ukrainian state companies.
  • In October 2021, former Minister of Energy Volodymyr Demchyshyn and Victor Medvedchuk, (shadow) leader of the pro-Russian party Oppositional Platform – For Life, also received formal Notes of Suspicion regarding the case with the illegal imports of coal. Medvedchuk is currently under house arrest.

According to the investigation, the participants in the alleged conspiracy effectively made the energy sphere of Ukraine dependent on the Russian Federation and its puppet stateless “DNR” and “LNR” in Donbas. Investigators assert that the former president deliberately disrupted coal supplies from South Africa which the government had arranged for in 2014, following the occupation of Donbas.

Because of the occupation, Ukraine lost 88 coal mines and the deficit of coal was steep at the end of 2014.

Due to the occupation of Donbas by pro-Russian militants, Ukraine lost one of its most developed industrial regions and the majority of coal mines.

Poroshenko’s defense team argued that he ordered the examination of South African coal in November 2014 because of its bad quality and inflated price.

However, DBR investigators claim that the examination was conducted to intentionally disrupt the supplies, citing the fact that it was closed half a year later without any findings. They point out that the South African supplies stopped at the end of 2014, leaving the only alternative for supply as coal from Russia and occupied Donbas.

According to an independent investigation by media outlet Ukrainska Pravda as well as the SBU, it was Medvedchuk and his business partners who were the main figures in arranging coal supplies from Donbas in 2015-2016.

Moreover, as Euromaidan Press reported earlier, in 2015 Medvedchuk’s companies sold 76,000 tons of coal from Donbas to Ukraine through Russian intermediary firms while presenting this coal as allegedly shipped from South Africa.

Where Putin’s media-wielding men in Ukraine get their money

According to the latest Note of Suspicion, Poroshenko is charged as the key figure in the entire coal scheme. It is alleged that he allowed Medvedchuk and other-accused persons to import coal from Donbas occupiers at public expense. Poroshenko is also accused of intentionally disrupting coal supplies from South Africa.

“Together, evidence testifies that Petro Poroshenko, being the President of Ukraine at the time, used his authority and influence given to him to terminate contracts with South Africa. After that, at the request of representatives of the Russian Federation, he organized, on behalf of Ukraine, contracts for the supply of coal from uncontrolled territories,” summarizes Anatoliy Bulich, head of the SBU Main Investigation Department.

Poroshenko told media on 29 December 2014 that Ukraine would buy coal from state mines located in occupied territories, but the funds would go only to salaries for miners:

“We will indeed buy from state-owned enterprises, including those that extract coal in the temporarily occupied territory, with the provison that this money is used exclusively for the salaries of miners, Ukrainian citizens.”

In turn, investigators claim that the mines to which the Ukrainian state paid money were not in use at that time, and the money went not only for miners’ salaries but in fact supported pro-Russian militants.

The evidence presented

The publicly presented evidence in the Medvedchuk case was published by the SBU on 8 October 2021 and was included in the Note of Suspicion served on Poroshenko. The evidence includes:

  • Audio recordings of phone conversations between Victor Medvedchuk and Russian top officials, such as Kremlin Chief of Staff Dmitriy Kozak, as well as personal adviser to Putin, Vladislav Surkov. During the calls, Medvedchuk mentions Poroshenko and Kuziara in the context of the arrangement of coal imports — from the occupied territories — to Ukraine, saying that the schemes were agreed upon with “Ukraine’s tops.”
  • Testimonies of Ukraine’s state officials in 2015 who confirm the involvement of state top officials, including Poroshenko, to disrupt the 2014 contracts on coal supplies from South Africa and replace them with imports from occupied Donbas.
  • Transcript of the National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) meeting, on 4 November 2014, when Poroshenko ordered law enforcement agencies to examine contracts with South Africa.
Ivan Bakanov, head of SBU

SBU also claimed it has evidence the Ukrainian state paid Donbas occupiers for coal by cash but didn’t present the evidence:

“The investigation has serious evidence that confirms the illegal activities of the defendants. We know about the transfer of cash to the ‘L/DNR’ and the transfer of funds to enterprises from the occupied territories. Moreover, we see that plans discussed by the participants (change of heads of enterprises, the opening of bank branches, etc.) were later implemented,” Ivan Bakanov, head of SBU, said.

Poroshenko prosecution
Poroshenko speaks to his supporters in from of the court after a judge refused to arrest Poroshenko on 8 July 2020, while considering one of 58 criminal cases against the former President. Source: RBK

The goal of authorities is to discredit Poroshenko by jailing him together with Medvedchuk, Poroshenko’s lawyers say, claiming political persecution of Poroshenko

Allegations of Poroshenko’s intentional and corrupt cooperation with Russian №1 man Victor Medvedchuk, if proven, would definitely put an end to the former president’s political career. While Poroshenko’s supporters on average are the greatest defenders of Ukraine against Russian military aggression, according to the polls, they would never forgive Poroshenko for such treason.

Illia Novikov, one of Poroshenko’s lawyers

That is why the goal of authorities is to put the names of Poroshenko and Medvedchuk, officially greatest enemies, alongside in suspicion, and present them as similar traitors, Poroshenko’s lawyers claim:

“Since September 2021, it has been clear that their [authorities’] strategic task is to write the names of Medvedchuk and Poroshenko alongside in suspicion. We knew this and were fully prepared for it. We, the lawyers, talked about it in the media that in all the places where [authorities] said in [previous] suspicions ‘an unidentified person from the leadership of Ukraine,’ they planned to enter ‘Poroshenko,’” said Illia Novikov, one of Poroshenko’s lawyers.

Poroshenko’s lawyers assert that the former president did not facilitate any criminal schemes or participate in them, nor did he gain any personal benefits from coal imports. That is why the entire criminal case doesn’t prove any criminal activity of the former president, constituting pure political persecution of Poroshenko, they say.

According to Novikov, Poroshenko indeed ordered a thorough investigation into coal imports from South Africa, during the RNBO meeting on 4 November, but not because he had intentions to disrupt it. This coal was insufficient for Ukraine’s power plants which are designed for anthracite coal:

At that time there was information that that coal is substandard. And there was information that this coal is supplied under a strange ‘black’ scheme, which leads to an overestimation of its price. And today we are quite sure that this was the case, we have the documents of inspection and investigation. We are ready to publish them...

The information that coal from South Africa was supplied of poor quality and at an inflated price was not only received, it has been confirmed, and we can prove this by documents now.”

In effect, even if supplies from South Africa had continued, their volume would not be sufficient to cover the deficit, additional imports would still have been needed.

Poroshenko’s lawyers deny that he was in any way involved in coal imports from Donbas. They contend that saying publicly (as well as during the RNBO meeting) that Ukraine needs coal — and that coal from South Africa is insufficient — is not a crime in any way.

They further assert that investigators simply want to interpret these words as the involvement of Poroshenko in Medvedchuk’s schemes, without any direct proof.

Although his legal team has confirmed that Poroshenko knew the coal was imported from Donbas, they argue that it was not within his direct purview to investigate how this coal was obtained, whether it provided personal enrichment for Medvedchuk or financing of terrorist organizations.

There is sufficient evidence that Medvedchuk organized coal imports from Russia. Poroshenko had invited Medvedchuk as Ukraine’s negotiator with Russia in the Trilateral Contact Group (Ukraine, Russia, and the OSCE), in July 2014. However, Poroshenko and his defense claim this was done to use Medvedchuk’s links with Russians to release Ukrainian POWs.

The same has been said about coal; namely that Poroshenko knew about imports from Donbas but tolerated them because at the time of a severe energy crisis Ukraine needed coal.

His lawyers argue that other accusations directed against the past president are also false; namely, that money paid for the coal financed terrorism. The lawyers say that the funds were directly allocated to state mines, and how the coal was obtained — even if from the occupied territories — was outside of the knowledge of the president. In fact, they said, funds were provided to the cashier of the mine. What took place after that is simply not possible to investigate:

“I don’t think they [authorities] believe this case will go to court. Their tactical task in this short period is to create a scandal. Not to arrest Poroshenko. If they had a task to arrest Poroshenko at any cost, they would wait until he returned from abroad, come up with something at the airport, and so on.”

Poroshenko escaped from DBR investigators who tried to hand him the Note of Suspicion

While Poroshenko’s guilt has not yet been proven, already damaging for his reputation was the video posted by DBR. The video shows him ostensibly escaping from DBR investigators on 17 December 2021, as they try to stop him for handing a Note of Suspicion. The video demonstrates that Poroshenko simply ignored the investigators while heading to his car and ordering his driver to get away:

Soon after that incident Poroshenko left Ukraine, saying he had several planned meetings in Türkiye and Poland. He assured the public he would return on 17 January 2022, and talk “with [prosecutor general] Iryna Venediktova, using his right of an MP for urgent consultation with Prosecutor General.”

Poroshenko’s property was arrested on 6 January, the move opposition says is political prosecution of Poroshenko

On 6 January 2022, in the Orthodox Christmas Eve that remains widely celebrated in Ukraine, Kyiv’s Pecherskyi court arrested property owned by Poroshenko. Opposition claimed it is political persecution of Poroshenko directed among else to impede broadcasting by his two opposition TV channels, Priamyi and the 5th Channel, “prevent any criticism of the government in the information space.”

Ihor Holovan, a lawyer of Petro Poroshenko

The European Solidarity Party, which Poroshenko leads, also claimed a conflict of interest between Pechersk court judge Vita Bortnytska, whose research supervisor in 2009 was the current Deputy Head of the President’s Office Oleh Tatarov, personal enemy of Poroshenko since the Euromaidan Revolution, which Tatarov criticized.

The State Bureau of Investigation later denied that the assets of TV channels were frozen. Poroshenko’s lawyer Ihor Holovan, in turn, presented documents proving that the assets of two companies which according to Holovan are crucial for the broadcasting of TV channels, were arrested.

In addition to this, on 21 December, the Anti-Monopoly Committee of Ukraine imposed a $10.3 million fine on three Poroshenko-linked companies.

Ukraine’s demonopolization agency fines ex-president Poroshenko-linked companies $10.3 million

The chronology of criminal cases against Poroshenko

This last case is not isolated but a logical continuation of many other criminal proceedings against Poroshenko.
  • Immediately after Zelenskyy’s victory in the May 2019 elections, multiple criminal cases were opened against Poroshenko and members of his team for alleged corruption, state treason, and abuse of power. Most of the cases were lodged by the former deputy head of the administration of runaway president Viktor Yanukovych’s, Andriy Portnov. Other cases were based on investigations by the DBR.
  • On 26 May 2020, the DBR accused Poroshenko of illegally smuggling a collection of 43 valuable paintings. DBR conducted searches in the museum where they were stored. The charge did not proceed in court.
  • As of September 2020, there were 58 criminal cases filed against the former president. Among others, these included, accusations that Poroshenko illegally deprived former Georgian president, Mikheil Saakashvili, of Ukrainian citizenship; that Poroshenko committed tax evasion during the purchase and sale of TV channel Priamyi; and that he used forged documents to travel for a vacation in the Maldives, hiding the fact from the public.
  • On 18 June 2020, a massive rally in support of Poroshenko took place near the Pechersky District Court of Kyiv. The court was considering demands to detain Poroshenko during the investigation of his alleged illegal appointment of a deputy head to the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine. The court did not apply any measures.
This marked the end of the first phase of court hearings against Poroshenko. In 2021, Zelenskyy started his active fight against oligarchs, beginning with pro-Russian Victor Medvedchuk.
  • On 19 February 2021, Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council (RNBO) sanctioned Putin’s Ukrainian top ally Victor Medvedchuk, his wife, and six other persons for illegal business activity in Russia’s puppet “Luhansk and Donetsk People’s Republics.” Medvedchuk claimed the action was illegal because RNBO has no right to sanction Ukrainian citizens without a court decision.
  • On 12 May 2021, Medvedchuk was charged with state treason. The charges presented by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) accused Medvedchuk of helping Russia extract oil and gas in occupied Crimea since 2015, and leaking secret information about Ukrainian military units to the Russian FSB. The next day, the Kyiv Pecherskyi District Court ordered house arrest for Medvedchuk.
This case against Medvedchuk had no links to Poroshenko. However, another case on coal imports from Donbas was opened against Medvedchuk in October 2021. Prosecutors found Poroshenko guilty in this very same case.
  • On 20 May 2021, in a highly personalized manner, Zelenskyy threatened to send his predecessor, Poroshenko, to prison.
  • On 8 October, Victor Medvedchuk was accused in yet another case of illegal extraction of coal in occupied Donbas and export of this coal to Ukraine, thereby financing the occupiers of Donbas.
  • Following this criminal case, on 20 December 2021, DBR charged Ukraine’s fifth president Petro Poroshenko with state treason and aiding terrorist organizations. The Deputy Prosecutor General Oleksiy Symonenko signed the arrest warrant on Poroshenko. The main accusation is that Poroshenko allowed Medvedchuk to import coal from the (occupied by Russian militants) Donbas, thus facilitating the enrichment of both Medvedchuk and the occupying authorities.
  • The next day, 21 December, the Anti-Monopoly Committee of Ukraine imposed a $10.3 million fine on three Poroshenko-linked companies.
  • Poroshenko briefly commented on the case and offered to meet with investigators when he returns to Ukraine in January 2022.
Edited by: Sonia Maryn
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