KYIV (Reuters) – Viktor Medvedchuk, a fugitive who was the most prominent representative of pro-Russian political factions in Ukraine and a friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin, has been found and arrested by Ukraine’s secret services.
A trained lawyer and wealthy businessman who served in political roles since the 1990s, Medvedchuk had been placed under house arrest last year to face treason and terrorism financing charges, which he denies. He escaped a few days after the Russian invasion began in February.
On Wednesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy proposed swapping Medvedchuk for prisoners of war being held by Russian forces.
Following are facts about the 67-year-old:
– Born in Russia, Medvedchuk has often been photographed with Putin. He describes the Russian president as a personal friend and says Putin is the godfather to his youngest daughter, Daryna.
– Medvedchuk served as chief of staff of Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma from 2002-2005. He was an opponent of Kuchma’s pro-Western successor Viktor Yushchenko, and a close associate of Viktor Yanukovych, Ukraine’s last pro-Russian president, who fled to Russia after being ousted in a popular uprising in 2014.
– In 2008, Ukrainian Focus magazine estimated Medvedchuk’s wealth at $460 million. His investments include energy, resources and media.
– During the conflict with Russia in eastern Ukraine in 2014, he played a role in peace negotiations, including serving as a member of Ukraine’s negotiating team for the exchange of prisoners.
– In 2014, the United States placed Medvedchuk on its sanctions list over his alleged role during the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea. In 2021, Ukraine imposed sanctions against Medvedchuk for his involvement in what the authorities called the financing of terrorism. He denied those charges.
– According to Ukrainian authorities, Medvedchuk was involved in the illegal sale of coal from separatist-controlled territories in the east of Ukraine. Last year, Ukraine nationalised an oil products pipeline owned by Medvedchuk and closed several television channels which the media associated with him.
– In May 2021, Medvedchuk was placed under house arrest and charged with high treason and later with aiding terrorism.
– He has been married three times. His current wife is a former TV presenter, Oksana Marchenko.
(Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Peter Graff)