The U.S. Justice Department has cut ties with a fugitive Ukrainian member of parliament who said he had turned over damning evidence proving the corruption of Ukraine’s president, a spokesman told RFE/RL on December 16.
The disclosure confirms for the first time that the department had held talks with the lawmaker.
Oleksandr Onyshchenko, the runaway lawmaker, said on December 1 that he had handed FBI agents audio recordings he made of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and members of his inner circle discussing schemes to steal money from state and private companies and buy votes in parliament -- charges the president’s administration vehemently denies.
Since then, Onyshchenko has gone on a media blitz, discussing the allegations -- which included a complex scheme to drive down the approval ratings of the former prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, to make way for a Poroshenko ally -- contacting Ukrainian and international media as well as RFE/RL.
Poroshenko (left) and Arseniy Yatsenyuk at a National Security and Defense Council of Ukraine meeting in September 2015
The scandal has caused an uproar in Ukraine, where the public is becoming increasingly frustrated by the slow progress of anticorruption reforms.
But despite having met with Onyshchenko, the Justice Department said it would not be contacting him again and gave no indication that it would pursue the allegations.
“While the Department of Justice does not usually comment on such meetings, in light of Mr. Onyshchenko’s decision to speak publicly in this regard, we can state that the U.S. Department of Justice has no plans to have further meetings or communications with Mr. Onyshchenko,” Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr told RFE/RL by e-mail without saying when, where, or how many times the department met with him.
Carr declined to say what specifically -- if anything -- Onyshchenko had handed over to U.S. law enforcement.
As a general matter, Carr explained, the Department of Justice and U.S. law enforcement agents will meet with individuals who claim to have evidence regarding violations of U.S. law. But the mere fact of such a meeting is not an indication that such violations have occurred or that the individual’s information is considered to be accurate.
Onyshchenko, who fled Ukraine before being stripped of his parliamentary immunity from prosecution last summer, is being investigated by Ukrainian authorities for allegedly stealing $64 million from a state gas producer.
Ukraine's Security Service (SBU) has accused Onyshchenko of spying for Russia.
Onyshchenko's current whereabouts are unknown, although he has spent much of his time in London since leaving Ukraine.
Poroshenko’s office, which dismissed Onyshchenko’s accusations as “the expedient fiction of the suspect” in a statement to RFE/RL on December 7, has gone on the offensive and even threatened to sue some journalists who report on the lawmaker’s claims.