KYIV -- Ukraine's State Bureau of Investigation (DBR) has announced that prosecutors consider former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko a suspect in a case about the alleged illegal transfer of valuable paintings across the border.
The DBR announced on June 10 after meeting with Poroshenko that the former president was officially served with a document informing him that his status was changed from witness to suspect in the case.
However, one of Poroshenko's lawyers, Ilya Novikov, rejected the DBR's announcement, saying that his client cannot be officially considered as a suspect in the case as the document informing him of his status was handed over with procedural violations.
"There was no questioning, because there was no plan to hold questioning to start with. In fact, the whole idea was to hand Petro Poroshenko the document recognizing him as a suspect in the case," Novikov said.
According to Novikov, in cases similar to that in question, Prosecutor-General Iryna Venedyktova must personally announce that a person is a suspect in a criminal case.
"Since the proceeding was not in accordance with the law, we refused to communicate with the person and left the DBR building right away," Novikov added, stressing that his client was called to the DBR not for questioning as the summons said, but for officially serving him with the document recognizing him a suspect.
Before entering the DBR building on June 10, Poroshenko spoke to journalists and criticized President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for what he called "persecution of the opposition."
Poroshenko came to the DBR six days after a court in Kyiv ruled that he can be brought in by force if need be after he twice ignored a summons in May. Investigators said they wanted to question him as a witness in the case about 43 paintings by world-famous artists that crossed the border without proper customs clearance.
On May 29, DBR investigators said they also wanted to question Poroshenko in an investigation into audio recording of individuals thought to be Poroshenko and former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.
In May, lawmaker Andriy Derkach said the recordings proved that Poroshenko had committed "high treason."
Poroshenko's lawyers have said the ex-president did not show up at the DBR because the summons had been made via the agency’s website. They said their client should have been served the subpoena personally.
Poroshenko has been questioned as a witness several times in recent months in investigations launched after he failed to win a second term as president last year.
In January, the DBR said that it was looking into 13 possible cases in which Poroshenko or his associates were implicated.
A billionaire confectioner, Poroshenko currently serves as a member of parliament.
His party ran on a pro-European, anti-Russian ticket in July 2019 parliamentary elections, winning 25 seats.