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Weeks Ahead Of Ukraine Vote, Poroshenko Under Fire Over Smuggling Claim

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Yulia Tymoshenko calls for the impeachment of Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko at a parliament session in Kyiv on February 26.

KYIV -- Ukrainian presidential candidate Yulia Tymoshenko has called for the impeachment of President Petro Poroshenko, accusing him of treason after a media outlet aired a program alleging that people close to the incumbent enriched themselves by smuggling spare parts for military equipment from Russia.

With the March 31 election less than five weeks away and polls indicating that she and Poroshenko are among the three front-runners, former prime minister Tymoshenko told a parliament session on February 26 that her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party and others have launched an impeachment process.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, a comedian who some polls have put in the lead in the presidential race, sharply criticized Poroshenko in a social media post.

The report on media outlet Bihus.Info's program Nashi Hroshi (Our Money) threw an explosive new element into a campaign in which Poroshenko -- the pro-Western tycoon who came to power after Moscow-friendly President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed out by protests known as the Maidan -- is seeking to overcome a steep drop in popularity to win a new term amid a continuing war against Russia-backed separatists and persistent economic challenges.

The report posted on YouTube on February 25 alleged that Ihor Hladkovskyy, the son of close Poroshenko ally Oleh Hladkovskyy, who is deputy secretary of the National Security and Defense Council, organized a ring to smuggle spare military-equipment parts from Russia in 2015, a year after Moscow seized Ukraine's Crimea region and threw its support behind militant separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk.

"We believe that the facts uncovered by investigative journalists fall under Article 111 of the Criminal Code, and are defined as treason deliberately committed by a citizen of Ukraine at the expense of the sovereignty, territorial integrity, inviolability, defense, and economic security of Ukraine," Tymoshenko said in parliament. "This is collaboration with the enemy, the destruction of the Ukrainian Army, and assistance to the occupying country in capturing our homeland, which is a criminal matter."

Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)
Ukrainian comedian and presidential candidate Volodymyr Zelenskiy (file photo)

Zelenskiy, in a video posted on Facebook on February 26, said that he had "no words" to comment on the report and added that "people who came to power on blood are 'earning' money on blood." He joked bitterly that he now knows what Poroshenko's campaign slogan "Army, Language, Faith!" means: "To steal from the army, to selectively split people by language, so that there will be no faith in you."

The report by Bihus.info, which conducts journalistic investigations, alleged that state defense facilities purchased the smuggled spare parts from private companies linked to Hladkovskyy and his friends at highly inflated prices. It claimed that Ukroboronprom, the state concern that supervises defense industry production facilities, knew the origin of the smuggled parts origin but agreed to buy them.

The report also alleged that two men, Andriy Rohoza and former Ukroboronprom employee Vitaliy Zhukov, helped Hladkovskyy smuggle the spare parts from Russia and that the three illegally earned at least 250 million hryvnyas ($9.2 million) through three major private firms, one of which belonged to Poroshenko at the time.

The report came as Poroshenko, who has been dogged by accusations that he has failed to tackle corruption or rein in influential magnates, was seeing his poll numbers improve after indications in 2018 that his reelection chances were very slim.

There was no immediate comment from Ihor Hladkovskyy or from Poroshenko, but Poroshenko's spokesman, Svyatoslav Tseholko, said on February 26 that Oleh Hladkovskyy had been suspended from his post at the National Security and Defense Council.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (file photo)
Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko (file photo)

Ukroboronprom called the Bihus.info report "manipulative," claimed it did not present all the facts, and suggested that the proper authorities should assess whether the report violated any laws.

"The journalists did not indicate the source of its information [and] presented the information in a manipulative fashion," Ukroboronprom said in a statement on its website. "We emphasize that the journalists manipulatively used non-public information from criminal investigations and should contact the original sources in order to verify it."

Ukroboronprom said the "use of information relating to issues of national security should be given a proper legal assessment by the competent authorities." The state company said journalists should "act responsibly" and called on politicians to refrain from speculation and from the further use of what it called "information sabotage."

Oleh Hladkovskyy and another Poroshenko associate, Ihor Kononenko, have been involved in running Poroshenko's businesses following the confectionery tycoon's election in June 2014.

Bihus.Info announced that two more parts of its investigation will be aired soon.

Allegations about ties or transactions involving Russia are particularly sensitive because of Moscow's seizure of Crimea and its role in the war that has killed some 13,000 people in eastern Ukraine, where the Russia-backed separatist hold parts of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

The Ukrainian Constitution says the president "can be impeached if he or she commits high treason or other crimes."

Among other things, the process requires an investigation by a special prosecutor and multiple votes in parliament, including a three-fourths vote following approval by the Constitutional Court.

Written by Merhat Sharipzhan with reporting by Christopher Miller in Kyiv and Bihus.info
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