Zhvania Denies Yushchenko Charge

KIEV — A former friend and ally of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on Friday denied involvement in his nearly lethal poisoning four years ago and said that the leader's accusations were retribution for criticism.

David Zhvania, a member of the pro-presidential parliament faction and godfather of one of Yushchenko's children, said he was "absolutely" not involved.

"I am not afraid of anything, I don't have any phobias or concerns — first and foremost, I can easily look my children in the eyes … and also my colleagues and the whole country," Zhvania said at a news conference.

Yushchenko fell gravely ill during the 2004 presidential campaign and was later diagnosed with dioxin poisoning, which badly scarred his face.

Yushchenko said at a news conference Thursday that he believes Zhvania was involved in the crime. He did not provide evidence for his claim.

After nearly four years, the probe has failed to yield tangible results and has damaged Yushchenko's image as a strong leader committed to rule of law.

Zhvania recently drew Yushchenko's anger by claiming that the president was not intoxicated with dioxin but came down with food poisoning.

"It was a human disease," Zhvania said Friday. "A poisoning, food poisoning, pancreatitis — there was nothing else there."