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Former Ukrainian Prime Minister and current presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko: "All our income and expenses are absolutely public."

KYIV -- The presidential campaign of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has registered numerous suspicious donations, repeating a pattern that journalists uncovered in her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party's accounts in 2016.

According to a new investigation by Skhemy (Schemes), a joint project by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukraine's UA:Pershy television channel, many of the individual donations listed in Tymoshenko's financial disclosures reveal suspicious patterns that could indicate fraudulent manipulations.

In addition, several individuals who are listed as Tymoshenko donors told Skhemy that they did not make any such contributions.

Asked to comment on the investigations findings, Tymoshenko denied wrongdoing.

"[The National Agency on Corruption Prevention] can investigate these matters," she said. "We are transparent. Everything is done absolutely publicly. All our income and expenses are absolutely public."

According to Tymoshenko's filings, her campaign received no donations at all between January and May 2018. Since that time, she has pulled in 160 million hryvnyas ($6 million), 145 million ($5.4 million) from private individuals.

According to Skhemy's analysis, numerous individuals contributed identical amounts, often either just less than 15 hryvnyas ($0.56) or just less than 150,000 hyrvnyas ($5,600). One individual contributed identical amounts several times from banks in different cities. Sometimes, entire families made donations on the same day and sometimes a single individual made numerous identical contributions within a short time span.

In the western city of Chernivtsi, Skhemi spoke with Olena Savva. According to Batkivshchyna's reports, Savva contributed three payments of 14,999 hryvnyas ($560). Savva, however, denied making any donation or having any connection with Tymoshenko's party.

"Where would I get so much money from?" she said.

SPECIAL REPORT: Meet's Ukraine's 44 Presidential Candidates



Retiree Vasyl Lendel from Kostopil was listed in the party's accounts as making several donations totaling nearly 40,000 hryvnas ($1,490). He denied making any contributions.

Skhemy uncovered similar discrepancies in the Kyiv area as well.

The National Agency on Corruption Prevention (NAZK) refused to comment on the Skhemy findings, only saying it was examining the financial statements of all political parties and that more than 200 suspected administrative violations have been referred to law enforcement.

The Interior Ministry told Skhemy they could not investigate Batkivshchyna's accounts without a complaint from NAZK.

Journalists uncovered similar complaints of individuals who denied making donations to Tymoshenko's party in 2016-17, analyst Ihor Feshchenko of the Chesno anticorruption NGO told Skhemy.

"It has been two years since an analogous scheme of financing Batkivshchyna was reported and there have been no results," he said. He noted that although his NGO was the main complainant, he was only questioned by investigators more than eight months after the probe was opened.

"The National Police are sabotaging the investigation," he charged. He said that when he was questioned, the investigators had not studied Batkivshchyna's filings or any of the media articles alleging the wrongdoing.

"That means the National Police are not really investigating this criminal case and they have tried to close it down several times," Feshchenko told Skhemy.

Forty-four candidates have been approved to run in Ukraine's March 31 presidential election. According to polls, the front-runners are incumbent President Petro Poroshenko, Tymoshenko, and comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Fahraddin Abbasov (file photo)

An activist belonging to the ethnic Talysh minority was immediately arrested after Moscow deported him back to his native Azerbaijan, ignoring a plea from Amnesty International not to hand him over to Azerbaijani authorities amid fears he may face torture.

In a statement issued on March 1, Azerbaijan’s State Security Service (DTX) said Fahraddin Abbasov was detained after his flight landed in Baku on February 28. It said he had been charged with promoting anti-state activities and inciting ethnic discord.

According to the DTX statement, investigators would look into whether Abbasov had cooperated with the security forces of Armenia, a country that has strained relations with Azerbaijan, largely due to the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh -- territory inside Azerbaijan that is populated mainly by ethnic Armenians.

The DTX said Abbasov was deported from Russia immediately after his Russian residency permit had expired.

A day earlier, Amnesty International expressed concerns about Abbasov's whereabouts, after he was moved from his pretrial detention cell at a prison near Moscow.

In a statement on its Russian website on February 28, Amnesty said Abbasov went missing on February 27 after law enforcement officers arrived at the prison in Lyubertsy and removed him from his cell, leaving his personal effects behind.

According to Amnesty, Abbasov was to face an extradition hearing in Moscow on February 28.

Natalya Zvyagina, director of Amnesty International in Russia, said Moscow would be in violation of international law if it handed Abbasov over to Azerbaijani authorities.

Amnesty called on Russia not to deport or extradite individuals to countries where they may face torture and mistreatment.

Abbasov, a former professor at Baku State University, had for years campaigned to preserve the culture and language of the Talysh.

In 2008, he fled Azerbaijan fearing persecution. In 2011, he obtained residency in Russia.

Baku has been persecuting Talysh intellectuals for years.

In 2013, Hilal Mammadov, the editor of the independent newspaper Tolisi Sado (The Voice of Talysh), was sentenced to five years in prison on charges of high treason, incitement of ethnic hatred, and illegal drugs possession.

Human rights activists said the charges were politically motivated.

The Talysh minority's leader in Azerbaijan, Novruzali Mammadov, who edited the newspaper before Hilal Mammadov, died in prison in 2009 after being found guilty on charges of spying for Iran and sentenced to 10 years in jail.

Critics said those charges were politically motivated as well.

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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