Then-General Prosecutor of Ukraine Viktor Shokin speaks during news conference in Kyiv, Ukraine, Feb. 16, 2015.
FILE - Then-Prosecutor General of Ukraine Viktor Shokin speaks during a news conference in Kyiv, Feb. 16, 2015.

Ukraine's State Bureau of Investigation, responsible for investigating high-level crime in that country, Thursday opened a criminal case concerning alleged pressure by then-U.S. vice president Joe Biden to get rid of Viktor Shokin, then Ukraine's prosecutor general.

Biden, who served under former U.S. President Barack Obama, is running for the Democratic Party nomination to unseat U.S. President Donald Trump in November elections. Trump has claimed that Biden tried to have Shokin fired in 2015 in order to protect his son from prosecution.

Shokin`s lawyer, Oleksandr Teleshetsky, told reporters Thursday the move to open the case was made under a court order, based on a criminal complaint filed by Shokin.

He said that although the name “Biden” is present in the criminal complaint, the criminal case refers to an unnamed “U.S. citizen.” The lawyer said that based on public statements made by Biden, his client had good reason to believe that the former vice president ordered and instigated Shokin`s removal as prosecutor general.

Teleshetsky referred to a Biden statement at a 2018 Council on Foreign Relations event, when he talked about threatening to rescind a $1 billion U.S. government loan to Ukraine if Shokin were not fired.

Biden's campaign, Ukrainian anti-corruption activists, and former Obama administration officials have long maintained that Biden`s demand was a part of an international campaign to remove the Ukrainian law enforcement official because he wasn`t actively pursuing corruption cases.

'Means nothing'

Speaking of the new investigation, Kostiantyn Likarchuk, a managing partner in the Kyiv office of the Kinstellar law firm, told VOA, “Legally, that means nothing. If anybody reports a criminal offense, then goes to a court, and a court makes a decision that the State Bureau of Investigations has to register the probe, it would register it. It doesn`t mean that there are grounds for an investigation.”

"Ukrainian authorities have neither the capacity nor the skills required for the investigation of this kind. But in any event, to assume that Biden interfered with Shokin’s activity is absurd,” said Likarchuk.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and a witness in the Trump impeachment inquiry William Taylor told VOA that he hopes the probe against Biden will be seen as “a normal law enforcement operation” and would not jeopardize the bipartisan support of Ukraine in Washington.

"What I have told my Ukrainian friends, over and over again, is that the most valuable strategic asset Ukraine has in the U.S. is this bipartisan support. It’s golden. Most issues in this city are in conflict; they are controversial; they don’t have bipartisan support. Ukraine has bipartisan support. And actions that are taken over there should not jeopardize that. Ukrainians don’t want to be involved in our politics, and we don’t want to be involved in Ukrainian politics. That should guide the Ukrainian government to be sure they’re not interfering in our politics,” Taylor said.

Ostap Yarysh of VOA's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.