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Petro Poroshenko: Ex-president returns to Ukraine to face treason charges

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By Euronews  with AP
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Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, left, poses for a selfie with a Ukrainian supporter at Warsaw's international airport before boarding a flight to Kyiv, Ukraine
Former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, left, poses for a selfie with a Ukrainian supporter at Warsaw's international airport before boarding a flight to Kyiv, Ukraine   -   Copyright  Credit: AP

Former Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has arrived back in Ukraine to fight treason charges.

A prosecutor has alleged Poroshenko was involved in the sale of large amounts of coal that helped finance Russian-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine in 2014 and 2015.

The former president is the owner of the Roshen confectionery empire and one of Ukraine's richest businessmen.

On Wednesday, Ukraine's judiciary allowed Poroshenko — an MP in the Rada, Ukrainian state parliament — to remain free during the investigation while forbidding him to leave the country, while several hundred supporters celebrated the ruling outside the court.

"This is not yet a victory, this is the first step in the right direction," Poroshenko said, adding that the seizure of his passport hinders his "political activity".

The Kyiv court has already frozen Poroshenko’s assets as part of its investigation into the allegations of high treason. 

The former president faces up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

Poroshenko insists he is innocent and has accused his successor, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, of trying to discredit him politically to distract from Ukraine's widespread problems, including economic woes and rising deaths from COVID-19.

“I will return to Ukraine to fight for Ukraine,” Poroshenko said on Sunday, adding that he considers fighting the “politically motivated” charges to be part of his patriotic fight for the nation.

Poroshenko was elected in the first round of snap elections in 2014, just two months after the Maidan revolution ousted Viktor Yanukovych from office. He lost to Zelenskyy in a run-off in 2019.

Nicknamed the "Chocolate King", Poroshenko sold two television channels he owned in November 2021 following the introduction of a new bill, dubbed the "anti-oligarchs law".

The government said the law aimed to curb the political influence of oligarchs and tackle corruption. Poroshenko, whose fortune is estimated by Forbes to be at €1.4 billion, has denounced it as an attack against freedom of the press.

The charges against Poroshenko have generated concerns of undemocratic score-settling in Ukraine and also alarmed the country's allies. 

The case also came as Russia has built up troops along the Ukraine border, prompting the country's Western allies to voice concerns that Russian president Vladimir Putin might be planning an invasion — an allegation Moscow vehemently denies.

Poroshenko said he sees charges he faces as harmful for the country at such a time. He said Ukraine's leadership is responsible for national unity, and what “Russia is really looking for is disintegration and conflict inside the country.”

“I think this is a very irresponsible action of the current leadership to disintegrate the country and ruin the unity," he said.

WATCH: Peter Dickinson, Ukraine editor of the international affairs think tank, the Atlantic Council, says the case against Poroshenko casts a shadow over Ukraine's credentials as a fledgling democracy.