Ukraine’s fifth president Petro Poroshenko, the main political rival of current president Volodymyr Zelenskyy, returns to Ukraine, where he faces treason charges. He returned after a series of international meetings “to defend Ukraine” in order to, in his own words, “battle them [the government of Volodymyr Zelenskyy – Ed.] in court.” Immediately after the arrival, he proceeded to court with thousands of his supporters, who met him near the airport.
His flight from Warsaw arrived at 9 a.m on 17 January. In the airplane, Poroshenko gave interviews to journalists who were traveling aboard after meeting him in Warsaw.
On 20 December, Poroshenko was charged with state treason, for alleged facilitation of coal purchases from occupied areas on Donbas in 2015. He denies any wrongdoing. The charges are the latest in the row of about 100 criminal cases opened against Poroshenko since 2019 and investigated by Zelenskyy-controlled State Bureau of Investigations (DBR).
In our previous article, we have collected the arguments of both sides as expressed by prosecutors and Poroshenko’s lawyers:
Poroshenko claims he was prevented from returning to Ukraine
According to previous statements by Poroshenko’s lawyers, the entire criminal proceeding is designed to turn Poroshenko into a political emigrant.
After the latest charges were presented to Poroshenko on 20 December 2021, he indeed left Ukraine for what he said was a series of international meetings to defend Ukraine. He promised to return to Ukraine on 17 January to defend himself in the court what we see is happening now.
Poroshenko returned to Ukraine by a flight from Warsaw. As reported, border guards took his passport for a routine check, which usually lasts seconds but did not return it for about 15 minutes. Poroshenko said the border guards and investigators of the DBR tried to prevent him from returning to Ukraine while DBR denies this, saying the longer-than-usual checks are needed because of criminal proceedings against Poroshenko.
As reported by Ukrainska Pravda, as soon as information was disseminated that Poroshenko’s passport had been taken away by the border guards, his supporters, which gathered near the airport, rushed to the main entry.
Після того, як на екрані показали, що у Порошенка забирають паспорт, його прихильники масово хлинули до виходу з аеропорту. pic.twitter.com/ERLzxr5VA5
— Українська правда ✌️ (@ukrpravda_news) January 17, 2022
Poroshenko said in a comment:
“Law enforcement officers, some of whom were disguised as border guards, tried to prevent me from entering Ukraine, confiscated my passport because they suspected that I was not Poroshenko. They were checking my biometric passport for more than 15 minutes.”
Rally of Poroshenko’s supporters
As during the previous court hearings of 2020, when the guilt of Poroshenko in other cases was not recognized by the court, thousands of Poroshenko’s supporters gather near the airport to defend the politician from what they believe is political persecution.
They chanted “Poroshenko,” “Protect democratic future of Ukraine,” “We need democracy,” as well as held portraits of Zelenskyy with the inscription “dictator.”
Poroshenko went to the court session, after giving a speech in front of the court
Poroshenko coming to the court:
Порошенко прибув до Печерського суду pic.twitter.com/OQTB8kXutx
— Українська правда ✌️ (@ukrpravda_news) January 17, 2022
He said the recent treason charges are charges to “all five years when you and I built the state“:
“What happened to me recently is not news, because in three years these villains have opened more than 120 criminal cases against me and against you… But when they opened criminal case on treason, they crossed the red lines. It is an insult not only for me but all of us. And this is an insult to all five years, from 2014 to 2019, when you and I built the state, created our national identity, passed the law on [Ukrainian] language, carried out decommunization and much more, including the army, language and faith [referring to Ukraine receiving Tomos on the autocephaly of its orthodox church].”
He called to all political parties and democratic forces to unite now in order to resist Putin as well as “traitors” in Zelenskyy’s government:
“We are here today not to defend Poroshenko, but to defend Ukraine. To protect our unity. Because only a united Ukraine can defeat Russia and repel Kremlin mumper Putin. Today we are starting the process of uniting all democratic forces… Who has united, who is against Putin, who is against criminals in Zelenskyy’s government, against agents who surrender the Wagner operation… I want to say that now is the time to unite. I would like to thank honest law enforcement officers who refuse to carry out unlawful orders. I would like to thank those honest prosecutors who put down their IDs by refusing to sign notices of suspicion against volunteers, veterans, and opposition politicians. But first of all I would like to thank ordinary Ukrainians. My family and I have received millions of messages of support saying that we are together… The enemy is at our gates. And he is trying to win not only by the means of the military invasion, but also by the internal fragmentation of our state, insidiously sowing conflict. This irresponsible government is helping the Russian enemy.“
The court hearings
The court hearings started at Pecherskyi Kyiv district court after 11 a.m. Poroshenko lawyers reported about a “provocation by prosecutors,” saying a free-of-charge state attorney was appointed to replace Poroshenko’s private attorneys Illia Novikov and Ihor Holovan. Reportedly, the state attorney later came out and said that this was a provocation of the authorities and he would certainly not take part in this provocation.
The advisor in Zelenskyy office, Mykhailo Podoliak in turn stated that Poroshenko demonstrates “disrespect to legal procedures,” artificially “blowing up a scandal.”
“If a person has already gone abroad urgently, seeing law enforcement officers next to him, it is logical that the return of such a person to the country involves some simple procedures. Get a procedural document, appear in court — these are the things in which there is nothing complicated or unusual,” he stated, criticizing, in his words, Poroshenko’s “performance with the crowd.”
After a brief court session, Poroshenko’s lawyers requested a two-hour break to review court materials.
The court session resumed around 2 p.m. Prosecutors request the court to decide on the preliminary measure of detention for Poroshenko. Poroshenko’s lawyers claim it can’t be done, because the notice of suspicion wasn’t handed to Poroshenko in a legally proper way. Among else, they say:
- The law requires the Prosecutor General to sign the notice of suspicion for an MP. The Prosecutor General didn’t sign the notice, however. It was signed by her deputy Oleksiy Symonenko.
- The law requires the Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada be informed about the notice of suspicion for an MP. He was not informed.
In turn, a representative of the prosecutor’s office told the court that there were no violations: the notice of suspicion can be signed by the Deputy Prosecutor General, and all prosecutors can notify about the suspicion having the written authorization.
Poroshenko’s defense stated that if there is an authorization of prosecutor, the prosecutor must be identified in a separate document. That was not specified. Poroshenko’s defense argues the charges and arrest warrant should be returned to prosecutor to be reviewed “in order to meet at least procedural criteria.”
Prosecutors asked the court to apply preliminary measures for former President Poroshenko in the form of a two-month arrest with an alternative of one billion hryvnias bail. Prosecutors say Poroshenko may put pressure on witnesses, obstruct the investigation or hide evidence.
As the court took several breaks, member of Poroshenko’s European Solidarity team Oleksandr Turchynov supposed that “Constant breaks in the Pechersk district court session show that Presidential Office is discussing [with the judge] how to fight the opposition.”
After six hours of thinking on the decision, the judge decided to postpone the court hearing to 19 January at 14:00. Celebrating this tactical victory, Poroshenko and his team in the court started singing Ukrainian Christmas carols.