KYIV - Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who is running for president in next month's election, accused the incumbent of corruption — charges his office rejected as a lie as the race was heating up.
Tymoshenko told The Associated Press in an interview Monday that President Petro Poroshenko has used his position to enrich himself. She also alleged that Poroshenko's associates have engaged in a sprawling effort to bribe voters to ensure his re-election in the March 31 presidential vote.
Tymoshenko, 58, claimed that voters are being offered 1,000 hryvnia ($37) in exchange for supporting the 53-year-old Poroshenko, adding that she asked the Interior Ministry to investigate.
“They are setting up that network of bribery across the entire country,” she said. “I hope that the Interior Ministry will not allow that to be the basis of the president's campaign. How can a ‘democratic’ president treat his nation like that?”
Poroshenko's office quickly dismissed Tymoshenko's claims.
“Tymoshenko has been invariably leading the ratings of liars, and she obviously tries now to strengthen her positions,” Poroshenko's press service said in a written statement in response to AP requests for comment.
The statement sought to turn the tables on Tymoshenko, charging that it was her political movement that engaged in bribing voters, noting that one of its activists has recently been convicted on those charges.
Recent opinion polls have shown 41-year-old comedian Volodymyr Zelenskiy, who played the nation's president in a popular TV series, surging ahead of Tymoshenko and Poroshenko.
A survey conducted jointly by four respected polling agencies that was released Monday had 21.9 percent of respondents supporting Zelenskiy while Tymoshenko had 19.2 percent and Poroshenko was third with 14.8 Percent. Other candidates were trailing behind.
The poll of 10,000 people in face-to-face interviews was completed last week and had a margin of error of 1 percentage point.
Zelenskiy's high rating reflects both his popularity as a widely-recognizable TV persona and the public disillusionment with current leaders.
Ukraine has been hit by economic troubles and a sharp plunge in living standards after Russia's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and a separatist insurgency in the east.
Tymoshenko pointed at Poroshenko's personal fortune and alleged that the president, a multimillionaire with assets including a chocolate maker, media and other businesses, has profited from the fighting.
“The president has made some of those earnings by lending his own money to the country at fantastically high interest rates during the war,” she told the AP. “This is an example of a conflict of interests. This is an example of how people abuse their senior position to engage in politicized, corrupt business.”
In 2014, Forbes estimated Poroshenko's fortune at $1.3 billion. The value of his assets has shrunk since then.
Tymoshenko promised to track down “every copeck” and show “how the country has been robbed during the war under the cover of patriotic slogans” if she wins the vote.
She also promised to initiate constitutional amendments to increase the powers of parliament.
Tymoshenko served as the country's prime minister in 2007-2010. She later spent two-and-a-half years in prison for signing a gas deal with Russia, which was largely viewed as retribution by her political rival, then-President Viktor Yanukovych.
She narrowly lost to Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential vote and to Poroshenko in 2014 after Yanukovych was driven from power by massive protests.
Tymoshenko, a native of the Russian-speaking east of Ukraine, has been positioning herself as a pro-NATO, pro-European Union candidate and a staunch supporter of the troops who are fighting Russia-backed separatist in the industrial Donbas region.