Exiled Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky gave a detailed account on Friday of his contacts with Ukraine's leaders, including telephone calls with President Viktor Yushchenko, whose aides insist he never spoke to him. His account, in an interview with Reuters, is likely to add to a political storm in Kiev, where accusations the president received funds from Berezovsky surfaced days after Yushchenko sacked his prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko, last week.
The billionaire told Reuters in London he had spoken repeatedly to Yushchenko by telephone, met his top aides and agreed to help him become Ukraine's president.
"I was really surprised that the people who are around Yushchenko, who are close to him, lie so much," Berezovsky said.
"They are really lying, saying they didn't know me, they didn't visit me, they didn't do anything with me and so on."
Yushchenko's aides have denied they accepted cash from Berezovsky. His chief of staff has said the president has never spoken to the exiled opponent of the Kremlin, once seen as one of the most powerful men in post-Soviet Russia.
Berezovsky confirmed that documents which emerged this week were genuine evidence of payments he had made, but declined to comment on who had received payments or what the money was for.
Yushchenko won the re-run of a rigged election after weeks of street demonstrations dubbed the "Orange Revolution," becoming Ukraine's president in January.
Ukraine's first post-independence president, Leonid Kravchuk, triggered uproar in the country this week by announcing he had seen documents which showed payments by Berezovsky to Yushchenko's political movement.
Kravchuk said the accusations could be grounds for impeachment. Kiev denied them.
"Neither Viktor Yushchenko nor Oleh Rybachuk knows or has ever known Berezovsky," Yushchenko's chief of staff, Oleh Rybachuk, told Fifth Channel television on Thursday.
In his interview, Berezovsky said he had frequently met Yushchenko aides who are now ministers and spoke to Yushchenko himself many times by phone.
"They initiated our meetings before the revolution. They needed help and they asked me to help," he said in English.
"I decided to help them because I was 100 percent sure that Ukraine would be an example for Russia to move forward to democracy."
Berezovsky, a one-time Kremlin ally who grew rich privatising Russian state companies, now lives in Britain under political asylum and opposes Russian President Vladimir Putin.
He is wanted in Russia on fraud charges he says are political.
Berezovsky said acting Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Roman Bezsmertny and acting Emergencies Minister David Zhvania had met him repeatedly "in this office," asking for financial support and other assistance.
Although he had not met Yushchenko in person, Berezovsky described regular phone calls before, during and after the revolution.
Asked about Berezovsky's remarks on Friday evening, Rybachuk, the chief of staff who earlier denied Yushchenko had spoken to Berezovsky, told Reuters no such conversations had taken place in his presence.
"In my presence, it never happened," Rybachuk said.
"What I can tell you is that I was approached by representatives of Mr Berezovsky a couple of years ago. They wanted to make contact. I said there was no way. I said, with this guy -- whether he's in London or on Mars -- I'm not going to meet him," he added.
Berezovsky said he believed his own links to Yushchenko's supporters had been made public because Moscow-backed opponents of Yushchenko were trying to discredit the country's leaders and deepen a split between Yushchenko and Tymoshenko.
"I think the basis of the revolution even today is the union of Yushchenko and Tymoshenko. And the Kremlin is absolutely correct -- to make damage to the revolution, maybe the biggest
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