Ukraine presidential race heats up with fraud accusations

Presidential candidate, former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, has accused rival Petro Poroshenko's campaign of fraud just weeks before the March 31 election (AFP Photo/Sergei SUPINSKY)

Kiev (AFP) - With Ukraine's presidential election just weeks away, former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Friday turned up the heat on a top rival accusing incumbent Petro Poroshenko's campaign of fraud.

Tymoshenko told journalists at the interior ministry building in Kiev that she was providing "evidence, testimony, that today preparation for large-scale bribery and falsification is really taking place,"

"Today there is systemic bribery all over Ukraine," she said, accusing a pro-Poroshenko lawmaker of managing a structure that plans to "distribute money to people" in exchange for votes.

Presidential polls are scheduled in Ukraine for March 31.

Police confirmed to AFP that they have opened an investigation but said it is just one among "dozens" of probes into "election law violations" that could have been committed by various presidential candidates.

It was not clear whether Tymoshenko on Friday submitted any specific facts against Poroshenko. Ukraine law permits the police to formally open a case based on a complaint.

Poroshenko's re-election campaign "categorically" denied all allegations immediately.

"There are no facts that would prove attempts by Poroshenko's team to bribe the voters," campaign spokesman Oleg Medvedev told reporters.

Ukraine's SBU security service said last month it conducted over 30 searches as part of its election meddling investigation, without specifying the candidate in the probe.

A lawmaker from Tymoshenko's party said members of her campaign were searched.

Mutual accusations of bribery and fraud are common during national election campaigns in post-Soviet Ukraine.

An opinion poll on the presidential race published by the Kiev International Institute of Sociology this week put Poroshenko in second place with 18 percent, while Tymoshenko came third with more than 13 percent.

The current frontrunner is comedian and actor Volodymyr Zelensky, with more than 26 percent respondents saying they would vote for the 41-year-old.