KYIV -- Ukraine's president has lashed out at a BBC report that asserted a secret $400,000 payment was made to U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime lawyer last year to set up talks between the two leaders.
Petro Poroshenko’s office issued a statement to RFE/RL on May 23, hours after the BBC published a report saying the payment to the lawyer, Michael Cohen, was arranged by intermediaries acting for Poroshenko who wanted to open a back channel to Trump.
The BBC report cited unnamed sources in the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv.
"Blatant lie, slander and fake. This is how we perceive the disinformation," Poroshenko's press office said in the statement.
"We believe that the blatant disinformation that has been disseminated is a part of a fake campaign aimed at discrediting Ukraine-U.S. relations, as well as a personal attack against the presidents of Ukraine and the U.S.," it said.
The statement demanded the BBC retract the article, and suggested Ukrainian officials would consider legal action.
Cohen told Reuters in a text message, "This story is completely false."
The report comes amid growing pressure on Cohen, who worked for years as Trump's personal lawyer and "fixer," helping to smooth business deals and make new ones for Trump's business empire.
He also helped arrange a 2016 payment to an adult film actress who said she had a sexual relationship with Trump. Trump has denied having an affair, but admitted that he had made a payment of more than $100,000 to Cohen in 2017. Trump did not specify the reason for the payment.
Federal agents raided Cohen's offices and home last month, after federal prosecutors in Manhattan obtained a search warrant.
Court documents indicate Cohen, whose father-in-law is a Ukrainian emigre, is under suspicion of possible bank fraud and violations of election law, among other things.
Legal experts have said the timing of the payment to the actress, Stephanie Clifford, could be construed as an illegal campaign contribution, since it could have been intended as "hush money" -- to secure Clifford's silence during the election campaign.
Sources in Ukraine told the BBC that Poroshenko believed that Trump's Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton, would win the U.S. presidency, and had authorized the leak of a document that was published by The New York Times in August 2016.
That document appeared to show that Trump's then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, had received millions of dollars from a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine. Manafort resigned a few days later.
Last year, Special Counsel Robert Mueller filed two indictments against Manafort, charging conspiracy, financial crimes, and failing to register as a foreign agent.
Meanwhile, one of Cohen's longtime business ventures was buying licenses, or medallions, to operate taxi cabs in New York City and elsewhere. One of his partners, Yevgeny Freidman, earlier this week pleaded guilty to tax fraud and agreed to cooperate with state and federal prosecutors.
That is expected to increase pressure for Cohen himself to cooperate with investigators looking into Trump's business dealings.