KYIV -- Ukrainian authorities have placed Petro Poroshenko under formal investigation for high treason, accusing the former president of links to financing Russia-backed separatists fighting government forces in the country’s east.
The State Investigation Bureau said on December 20 that it suspected Poroshenko of "committing treason" and supporting the activity of "terrorist organizations," referring to the separatists controlling parts of Ukraine’s eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.
During his presidency, Poroshenko helped the separatists to sell some 1.5 billion hryvnia ($54 million) worth of coal to Kyiv in 2014-15, it said in a statement.
The 56-year-old politician, who is now a lawmaker, faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.
The ex-president gave no immediate comment on the announcement, but Oleksander Turchynov, a senior member of his European Solidarity party, said the accusation was “fabricated” on the instructions of President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Poroshenko's party said he had left the country for a planned trip.
The accusations against Poroshenko are related to similar charges against pro-Russia lawmaker Viktor Medvedchuk, who has been under house arrest since May. Medvedchuk's political party, the second largest in parliament, denies wrongdoing.
Zelenskiy succeeded Poroshenko as president after defeating him in a 2019 election.
The war in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 13,200 lives since April 2014. Kyiv banned trade with the breakaway regions in 2017.
Ukraine faced an acute shortage of resources after the separatists seized territory on which the country's main coal mines were located.