Supporters of former Georgian president and governor of the Odesa region Mikheil Saakashvili ripped the out of a police van after he was arrested by Ukrainian security forces in Kyiv on December 5.
Saakkashvili had been detained in the morning by the SBU security service and the Prosecutor General's Office at his apartment in downtown Kyiv. As police tried to drive him away a large crowd surrounded the van, bring it to a standstill. Supporters then climbed onto the roof and tried to break the back door off the van before forcing the side door open and dragging the opposition figure to freedom through the crowd. According to the SBU's statement, the former president is suspected of "aiding participants in criminal organisations and covering up their criminal activities".
The confrontation between Saakashvili's supporters and security forces follows Ukraine's botched attempt to block the opposition politician from returning to Ukraine in September, after he fell out with President Petro Poroshenko, who had initially appointed him Odesa governor. Saakashvili has become a fierce criticism of corruption in Ukraine, which he claims is condoned by Poroshenko. Western backers of Ukraine are also beginning to lose patience with Poroshenko's obstruction of measures to curb rampant corruption.
After Saakashvili's detention, his supporters blockedsecurity forces from trying to take him away. During a standoff lasting for a couple of hours, the supporters built an impromptu barricade in downtown Kyiv, to block the police van carrying the detained politician.
After he was freed by the supporters, Saakashvili rejected any wrongdoing and claimed that the Prosecutor General's statement was untrue. "The statement by the prosecutor general is a blatant lie for the purpose of discrediting Saakashvili and the whole protest movement in Ukraine," he wrote on his official Facebook page.
Meanwhile, Ukrainian Interior Minister Arsen Avakov called on Saakashvili in late afternoon to abide by the law and respond to the charges brought against him. "Any conflict has only a legal solution. Until there is a court decision, everything that is going on will not find a solution," Avakov tweeted. "Saakashvili must obey the law, go through a legal procedure and respond to the charges brought, rather than provoke bloodshed and clashes."
In October, Ukraine's State Migration Service refused to grant refugee status to Saakashvili. The move followed September's crossing the Polish-Ukrainian border by the politician despite him having no valid passport. In July, Poroshenko stripped Saakashvili of his Ukrainian citizenship, leaving him stateless.
According to Ukraine's law enforcement agencies, up to 13 policemen and nine border guards were injured during the incident. On September 11, Poroshenko said in a statement that those who "violate the state border" must face "an absolutely clear legal responsibility".
Meanwhile, Ukraine's Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko told journalists on October 24 that Saakashvili failed to challenge the State Migration Service's move in court, thus, "there are no special circumstances" that could prevent Saakashvili from being deported or extradited [to Georgia]".
Later, Saakashvili told journalists that according to Ukraine's law on the legal status of foreigners and stateless persons, his status in Ukraine is completely legal. "I am a person who has a permanent place of residence on Ukrainian territory," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying. "I use all the rights of a citizen, and I cannot be deported from Ukrainian territory."
According to Prosecutor General Yuriy Lutsenko, Saakashvili allegedly obtained $500,000 from the fugitive Ukrainian oligarch Serhiy Kurchenko.
"Ukrainian citizen Severion Dengadze, in agreement with Saakashvili, turned through a confidant to Kurchenko, who is fleeing from prosecution [in Russia] on the issue of the stable financing of Saakashvili's activities in exchange for the interests of the members of the organized criminal group," Interfax news agency quoted Lutsenko as saying. "We recorded a $500,000 receipt of funds from the Russian side for Saakashvili."
In Ukraine, Kurchenko is suspected of creating and directing a criminal organisation, which participated in economic crimes in 2010-2014. The charges relate to the criminal embezzlement of property of Ukraine's major state and private organisations.
Kurchenko was put on the international wanted list after Ukrainian authorities brought crimnal charges against him two years ago, following former president Viktor Yanukovych's escape to Russia. The businessman allegedly made his fortune buying Russian gas at a preferential rate and selling it on at higher prices.