Ukraine leader open to international Saakashvili probe

Vilnius (AFP) –


Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Friday international experts may help justice officials probe charges that Mikheil Saakashvili, a former Georgian president now active in Ukrainian politics, received illegal Russian funding.

Saakashvili, also a former regional governor in Ukraine, dramatically fell out with Poroshenko over accusations that Kiev was failing to fight endemic corruption.

The 49-year-old Georgian maverick, who presents himself as an anti-corruption crusader, has led rallies calling for Poroshenko's ouster.

Prosecutors in Kiev have accused Saakashvili of plotting a coup sponsored by associates of Ukraine's former Moscow-backed president Viktor Yanukovych, who was toppled in 2014 by pro-European protests and fled to Russia.

Saakashvili has denied the charges.

Poroshenko vowed Friday that Saakashvili would get a fair investigation and trial in Ukraine.

"I don't exclude that the inquiry may ask for extra expertise, including from international organisations, to enhance trust," he told reporters in Vilnius at a joint press conference with Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite.

"He (Saakashvili) has to answer to investigators and to society regarding the accusations against him," Poroshenko said.

"If he doesn't answer, it only means that these accusations are well-founded," he added.

Saakashvili evaded arrest by Ukrainian police on Tuesday when supporters armed with sticks, axes and chainsaws helped him flee custody.

Poroshenko also insisted Friday that "if someone is financed by an aggressor country, or by its special services, or by its oligarchs, for the purpose of undermining social calm and the stability of the state, they must be held to account by the law."

In 2015, Poroshenko had rewarded Saakashvili for his anti-corruption efforts by appointing him governor of the important Black Sea region of Odessa.

But an ugly falling out between the two saw Saakashvili stripped of his Ukrainian passport -- only for him to defy the authorities and force his way back into the conflict-riven country with the help of supporters in September.

Ukraine's president insisted that Saakashvili could turn to national and European courts over his passport.

The controversy is the latest chapter in Saakashvili's dizzying political career.

In 2003, he spearheaded the pro-Western "Rose Revolution" in Georgia in 2003 and then fought a disastrous war with Russia five years later that eventually prompted him to flee the small Caucasus country.