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Ukraine president kicks official out of meeting over criminal record

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Ukraine president kicks official out of meeting over criminal record
FILE PHOTO: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy holds a news conference after meeting European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels, Belgium, June 5, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo   -   Copyright  Francois Lenoir(Reuters)
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By Pavel Polityuk

KIEV (Reuters) – Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy had a regional official expelled from a meeting broadcast live on television on Wednesday because of a past criminal record.

“Get out of here, rogue! Are you not hearing me correctly?” he told Yaroslav Hodunok, to applause from other officials present at the otherwise routine meeting.

The official threatened legal action against Zelenskiy, telling a newspaper the 2002 case against him was wrong.

A comedian and actor, Zelenskiy won election in April promising to root out corruption. His Servant of the People party is on course to win a July 21 parliamentary election.

Zelenskiy was meeting officials from the Kiev region to discuss projects including a new city hospital yet to be built.

Hodunok, local council secretary and member of the Fatherland party of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, said there were problems with financing.

Zelenskiy said Hodunok talked a lot but did nothing, then read from his phone what he said was his criminal record for robbery and violence.

“Tell me whether it is true or not … a secretary of Boryspil city council was previously convicted of … robbery, combined with causing serious bodily injuries. Yaroslav Mikolayovych, is that you?”, he asked, using Hodunok’s first name and patronymic.

“I don’t like gangsters”, he said after his bodyguards led Hodunok out of the hall.

The previously little-known official told reporters afterwards he would take the president to court.

He told Ukrainska Pravda newspaper the 2002 case against him had been falsified. The paper published a photocopy of a court ruling in which Hodunok received a conditional sentence.

Zelenskiy ran for president despite having no previous political experience. He became famous playing the TV comedy role of a schoolteacher who unexpectedly becomes president after a pupil films his foul-mouthed tirade against corrupt politicians and posts the video online.

His presidential campaign exploited parallels with that fictional narrative, portraying him as an everyman who would stand up to a crooked political class.

(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Matthias Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)

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