December 19, 2016
WASHINGTON — A fugitive Ukrainian lawmaker, whose accusations of top-level corruption have sparked a political furor, has charged that President Petro Poroshenko’s allies are profiting from supplying troops fighting Russia-backed separatists.
Poroshenko’s government has pushed back aggressively against the media blitz by Oleksandr Onyshchenko, denying the allegations outright and threatening to sue some journalists who report on his claims.
A former close confidant of Poroshenko, Onyshchenko claims to have recorded conversations detailing corruption involving Poroshenko, his political party members, business partners, and others.
He fled Ukraine this summer and faces criminal charges there.
Among the materials Onyshchenko claimed he has are recordings of members of Poroshenko’s inner circle discussing schemes to steal money from state and private companies and buy votes in parliament.
He also said he had been involved in a complex scheme to drive down the approval ratings of the former prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, so he could then be replaced.
At a December 19 news conference, Onyshchenko repeated long-simmering suspicions that companies connected to Poroshenko’s inner circle were profiting from contracts to supply the frontline troops battling Russia-backed insurgents in eastern regions.
For that reason, he told reporters, Poroshenko had less incentive to bring a full end to the fighting and fulfill the 2015 Minsk accords reached with Moscow.
“He doesn’t want to do this, actually, because the war also for him is business. And it’s a way also for him to keep power,” Onyshchenko told the news conference via Skype.
A representative for Onyshchenko said he was in Europe but asked not to disclose his exact location because of security threats.
Roshen In Russia, Still
Onyshchenko also criticized Poroshenko for retaining an ownership stake in a Russian confectionary factory that supplies chocolates and other candy in Russia.
Poroshenko, a billionaire whose fortune comes in part from his candy company Roshen, has repeatedly pledged to sell off the factory, in the Russian city of Lipetsk.
As of October, Roshen continued to own the factory.
Poroshenko and his supporters have denied using insider deals or other suspect means to win supply contracts for the thousands of government troops fighting in the Donbas region.
Poroshenko’s allies have also repeatedly demanded that Onyshchenko back up his claims and turn over evidence for further investigation.
Earlier this month, Andriy Zhyhulin , a spokesman for Poroshenko’s office, told RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service that investigators had yet to receive any incriminating materials from Onyshchenko.
Last week, Nazar Kholodnytsky, the head of Ukraine’s anticorruption bureau, a specialized investigative unit set up in 2015 to deal with the country’s rampant corruption, said his unit would close its case by December 27 if Onyshchenko fails to turn over any evidence.
Earlier this month, Onyshchenko said he turned over materials to the U.S. Justice Department, upping the ante in his fight and threatening to draw the U.S. government deeper into Ukraine’s messy domestic politics.
On December 17, the Justice Department confirmed it had met with Onyshchenko but pointedly said it would have no more contact with him.
“They say to me one thing: ‘You know this corruption in Ukraine is, like, your own problem,'” Onyshchenko said. “‘We just want to look to see if it touches American law, American banks, American accounts, but we don’t want to go inside of Ukraine.'”
He argued that the United States, which has given nearly $500 million in assistance since the conflict erupted in 2014, and $2 billion in loan guarantees, should be more involved in the fight against corruption.
Otherwise, he said, “Ukraine will be the same country like Afghanistan or Iraq or these kinds of countries where corruption is at the highest level.”
“If you [the Americans] want Ukraine to be in Europe, if you want Ukraine to be a better economical [sic] situation, you should control all this financial support that you give to Ukraine. You should be more involved,” he said.