Coal, high treason and revenge: why Poroshenko faces up to 15 years in prison

Coal, high treason and revenge
Why Poroshenko faces up to 15 years in prison

Von Denis Trubetskoy, Kyiv

If former Ukrainian President Poroshenko returns to Ukraine on Monday morning, he is threatened with pre-trial detention. Poroshenko allegedly committed high treason with a friend of Putin. It’s about coal – and maybe about revenge.

On Monday morning at 9 a.m. Kyiv time, Petro Poroshenko, Ukraine’s fifth president, is due to return from Warsaw on a WizzAir plane after exactly one month. And although his supporters are waiting for him at Sikorskyj airport in Kiev, the entrance will hardly be pleasant for the 56-year-old. Because when Poroshenko left Ukraine on December 17, it probably had something to do not only with scheduled meetings abroad, but also with the fact that a summons for questioning was due for him that day. .

Since ex-comedian Volodymyr Zelenskyj defeated Poroshenko in the spring 2019 presidential election, the ex-president has appeared in more than 20 surveys. Only one of them, which concerned possible influence on the personnel policy of the national secret service, ended up in court in December 2021. For a year and a half, nothing changed in the other proceedings. But now things are getting serious for Poroshenko.

Since December 20, Poroshenko has been charged with high treason and supporting terrorism. According to a court ruling, if he landed in Kiev on Monday morning, he would have to be brought to justice, which his supporters probably want to prevent with their presence. Poroshenko faces up to 15 years in prison, and the bail set for the leader of the opposition European Solidarity party is one billion hryvnia – the equivalent of nearly $32 million. How he intends to pay the bail is unclear. According to Forbes, Poroshenko’s fortune stands at $1.6 billion, making him the seventh richest Ukrainian in 2021. But his accounts have been frozen by a court order for the time being.

Were Poroshenko and Medvechuk in common?

Specifically, the case concerns allegedly illegal deliveries of coal from areas controlled by pro-Russian separatists in Ukraine’s eastern industrial region of Donbass in 2014 and 2015. Since the outbreak of war in spring 2014, the majority of mines that produce coal for Ukrainian thermal power plants were located in the separatist zone of the mines. From the Ukrainian prosecutor’s point of view, for example, Poroshenko would have deliberately prevented imports of coal from South Africa, while the Ukrainian government had been seeking for months to diversify the fuel supply due to the complicated political situation.

At a Security Council meeting in November 2014, Poroshenko sharply criticized South Africa’s coal purchases and quality. Searches followed at the parent ministry and the dismissal of the energy minister who, according to investigators, was against purchases from the self-proclaimed people’s republics of Donetsk and Luhansk. Poroshenko replaced him with a new minister, and coal purchases from the “People’s Republics” continued smoothly – until February 2017, when protests by Ukrainian activists, who blocked railway lines to Lugansk and Donetsk for several months, finally ended all business relations with the separatists. areas.

Poroshenko worked on the issue with Viktor Medvechuk, a pro-Russian politician, businessman and close friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Medvechuk is currently under house arrest for similar allegations. According to investigators, by cutting off the direct coal supply from Russia at the end of November 2014, the plan of Medvedchuk and Russia was to leave Ukraine no choice but to buy coal from the separatist areas. By not using coal from South Africa, Poroshenko would have played a key role in this plan.

The evidence is legally questionable

Poroshenko defends himself against the allegations: “It’s crazy. I am the fifth president of Ukraine. Before putting something like this on the table, you must provide convincing evidence for both society and international partners “, he says. His lawyer Ilya Novikov explains to the online portal “Ukrainska Pravda”: “Poroshenko then entrusted the government with the task of obtaining coal. I insist that the government do it legally. Because the ban on economic activity with the occupied territories did not come until 2017. Coal from South Africa, on the other hand, was not only good enough in terms of quality, it was also sold at a considerably inflated price.

The most important evidence in the proceedings is in fact dubious: it concerns telephone calls intercepted, but not directly between Poroshenko and Medvedchuk. Moreover, they usually have a legally questionable origin. Whether the allegations are sufficient for a conviction is more than uncertain. What is striking, however, is how well the pro-Russian politician Medvedchuk fared during Poroshenko’s tenure, despite always presenting himself publicly as a major opponent of Russia: Medvedchuk built a media empire of three pro-Russian news channels, all of which were blocked under Zelenskyj. And he officially represented Ukraine in the negotiations of the Donbass war regarding the exchange of prisoners. Medvedchuk also had to resign from this position under Zelenskyj.

“I am not your opponent, I am your judgement,” future President Zelensky said during a memorable televised duel with Poroshenko in April 2019 at Kyiv’s Olympiyskyi Stadium. For some of Zelenskyi’s voters at the time, the current procedure could therefore be a long-awaited satisfaction. Many of them want the ex-president to be prosecuted. The conflict between Zelenskyj and Poroshenko also has a personal level: during the election campaign, Poroshenko’s team tried, among other things, to defame Zelenskyj as a drug addict. Whether the investigations are an act of revenge and populist action or whether the allegations are founded will only become clear during the actual proceedings.

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