Ukraine's security forces detained Volodymyr Ruban while he was transporting weapons from the conflict zone in the country's east. Officials claimed he planned to kill top Ukrainian leaders, including the president.
A court in Kyiv placed Volodymyr Ruban, a mediator known for negotiating prisoner swaps between the warring factions in Ukraine, in pre-trial detention on Friday.
Ukrainian authorities arrested Ruban at a checkpoint in the so-called gray zone near the territory controlled by the pro-Russian separatists. At the time, the 50-year-old Ukrainian national was driving a minibus back into the areas controlled by Kyiv's central government. Officials at the checkpoint discovered an arsenal of heavy weapons in the vehicle, including anti-tank missiles, mines, mortar rounds, Kalashnikov rifles, pistols and silencers. The weapons were reportedly hidden in furniture.
On Friday, the Kyiv judge said Ruban is suspected of plotting an attack "against senior government officials."
The targets included President Petro Poroshenko, Interior Minister Arsen Avakov, and National Security and Defence Council chief Oleksandr Turchynov, according to Ukrainian authorities. Ruban allegedly wanted to use the weapons to attack the parliament building and the seat of the presidential administration in downtown Kyiv.
Appearing before court, Ruban said he did not know he was transporting weapons. He claimed he was told the minibus was loaded with furniture.
He also pointed out that he took the road leading directly to the Ukrainian checkpoint.
"They don't just let you go through there, there are officers and soldier armed with automatic rifles," he said.
Ruban is the leader of "Officers' Corps" an group that facilitates prisoner exchanges.
Kyiv points the finger at 'Moscow handlers'
"We have managed to avert large-scale terror attacks in Ukraine," Ukrainian Security Service chief Vasyl Grytsak said. "There may have been thousands of civilian victims."
Grytsak pledged to present evidence that Ruban had been colluding with rebel leaders in eastern Ukraine. Grytsak specifically mentioned separatist commander Aleksandr Zakharchenko and also claimed rebels would not act without the blessing of "their Moscow handlers."
"You believe that there was no permission from Moscow?" he asked reporters. "We don't."
Previously, Ukrainian officials said the attack was aimed to create chaos in Ukraine and allow Russia to start a full-blown invasion in the east.
'Cheap American action flick'
Separatist leader Zakharchenko soon dismissed the allegations, saying that he only met Ruban to negotiate prisoner swaps and that it was "quite a long time ago." Zakharchenko said Grytsak's account of events reminded him of a "cheap American action flick made for the third-world market."
Separately, rebel commanders also rejected Kyiv's claims.
"We are not fighting a war against civilians and we are not committing terror strikes, those are not our methods of fighting," the rebel officials of the so-called Donetsk republic told the Interfax news agency.
Ruban's lawyers said they would appeal the detention order.
dj/sms (AFP, Reuters, Interfax, Ukrainski Novini)