Ukrainian officials have named former president Petro Poroshenko as a suspect in a treason investigation, accusing him of having helped pro-Russian separatists sell coal to Kyiv.
The authorities said they were investigating dozens of alleged crimes in which they suspect the 56-year-old politician might be involved.
The state investigation bureau said on Monday it suspected Poroshenko of “committing treason” and supporting the activity of “terrorist organisations”, referring to the separatists.
During his 2014-2019 presidency, Poroshenko helped the self-proclaimed Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics to sell some 1.5 billion hryvnia ($54m) worth of coal to Kyiv, the bureau said in a statement.
Poroshenko would face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
Earlier this year, a Ukrainian pro-Kremlin lawmaker and a former energy minister were also named suspects in this case.
In April 2019, Poroshenko was trounced in a presidential election by Volodymyr Zelenskyy, a comedian with no previous political experience.
Zelenskyy has pledged to root out corruption and investigate officials from the previous administration.
Although Poroshenko pivoted the ex-Soviet country closer to the West during his term as president, his critics accuse him of having failed to tackle corruption and poverty.
Now a senior lawmaker in a parliament dominated by Zelenskyy’s ruling party, he gave no immediate comment to the news.
His close ally, former parliament speaker Oleksandr Turchynov, denied any wrongdoing by Poroshenko.
It was, he said, “another case fabricated on the direct order of the incumbent president” and that it would “turn into a farce just like all the previous ones”.
Officials said last week the bureau could not summon Poroshenko for questioning in person. Poroshenko’s party said the former president had left the country for a planned trip.
In October, law enforcement officials accused pro-Russian lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk of colluding with officials during Poroshenko’s administration to buy coal from mines in separatist-held areas in 2014-2015 as a way of financing the separatists.
Medvedchuk, whose political party is the second-largest in parliament, is a Ukrainian citizen but has close ties with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has been under house arrest for about six months.
Poroshenko’s party in October called those accusations a smokescreen to divert attention from the government’s own wrongdoing.
Ukraine has been fighting pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Donetsk and Lugansk regions since 2014. The fighting has killed more than 13,000 people.
Ukraine faced an acute fuel shortage after separatists seized territory where coal mines were located. Prosecutors accused Medvedchuk of colluding with state officials to block coal purchases from the international market.
Kyiv and the West accuse Moscow of sending troops and arms across the border, which the Kremlin has repeatedly denied.