Ukraine opens inquiry into leaked phone calls Poroshenko, Biden

Petro Poroshenko and Joe Biden, Kiev, 16 January 2017.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy announced on Wednesday that prosecutors in Kiev have opened a criminal inquiry into leaked phone calls that allegedly feature the country's former leader Petro Poroshenko discussing conditions for a $1bn loan with former US Vice President Joe Biden, news wires reported.

The tapes, which are yet to be authenticated, were released on Tuesday by Ukrainian lawmaker Andrii Derkach, who long has aired unsubstantiated corruption accusations against Biden and his son, who used to serve on the board of Ukrainian gas company Burisma. The recordings don't appear to contain anything that would incriminate Biden or his son and were seen by some observers as a political effort to help US President Donald Trump's reelection bid.

The Ukrainian investigation was opened on treason and abuse of office charges, indicating it was mostly directed against former Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko.  

Derkach doesn't belong to Zelenskiy's camp, but several lawmakers who are members of the governing party announced Wednesday that they would set up a parliamentary panel to conduct their own inquiry into the tapes. Derkach, the son of Ukraine's former security chief, has held a succession of official jobs after graduating from a spy academy in Moscow in 1993. He is reportedly linked to Ihor Kolomoiskiy, a billionaire who owns a TV channel that broadcast a sitcom that made former comedian Zelenskiy widely famous. Since his election, Zelenskiy has sought to distance himself from Kolomoiskiy, who hoped to regain control over his bank that was nationalized under Poroshenko's watch. The Ukrainian parliament recently passed a bill that outlawed the bank's return to private hands.

Poroshenko rejected the tapes as a fabrication by pro-Russian forces in Ukraine. He also called Biden a “friend and ally of Ukraine” and criticized Zelenskiy for eroding Western support for Ukraine to Moscow’s benefit.

The US President Donald Trump last year pressured Zelenskiy to investigate the Bidens, father and son, in a phone call that triggered his impeachment. Zelenskiy, who carefully avoided taking sides in the US impeachment inquiry, said his predecessor could be in trouble over the tapes.

The Biden campaign declined to comment on the latest Ukraine developments.


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