KIEV (Reuters) - The arrest in Ukraine of a close associate of the influential business tycoon Ihor Kolomoisky on suspicion of embezzlement is politically motivated, his lawyer said on Sunday.
Hennadiy Korban was detained on Saturday in the eastern industrial city of Dnipropetrovsk, where he served as deputy governor under Kolomoisky before the latter was removed from his post in March by President Petro Poroshenko.
The sacking of Kolomoisky, a banking, energy and media tycoon, was seen as a move to curb his influence in ongoing power battles among Kiev’s political elite since street protests ousted Moscow-backed Viktor Yanukovich and the separatist rebellion erupted in the east.
Korban’s lawyer Oleksiy Shevchuk said there were no legal grounds for Korban’s arrest.
“Judging by the materials I have seen, this is open political pressure on the person in question,” Shevchuk was quoted as saying in a statement released by the Ukrainian Association of Patriots (UKROP), the party led by Korban and which Ukrainian media have reported is linked to Kolomoisky.
The prosecutor general earlier denied the arrest was politically motivated and accused Korban of stealing 40 million hryvnia ($1.7 million) intended for supporting Ukrainian troops fighting the pro-Russian rebellion.
Poroshenko has come under pressure over the failure of the prosecutor’s office to hold former and current senior public officials accountable for corruption. Few such arrests have been made in recent months.
Before his fall from grace, Kolomoisky had emerged from political upheaval and war in Ukraine to become one of the most dominant of its big business oligarchs.
Co-founder of the banking chain Privatbank, he had been a key ally to Kiev, arming and financing militia groups to hold off pro-Russian separatists in the east.
Korban ran for mayor in Kiev last month but did not win enough votes to reach the second round of the mayoral race.
Reporting by Alessandra Prentice; Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky