Ex-official facing trial recognized as refugee in Belarus

FILE - In this file photo dated Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2010, Ukrainian Defence Minister Mykhailo Yezhel, during the welcoming ceremony in Warsaw, Poland. Former Ukrainian defense minister Yezhel, who is accused of embezzling US dollars 2 million, told journalists Wednesday July 18, 2018, that he has been granted refugee status in neighbouring Belarus. (AP Photo/Alik Keplicz, FILE)

MINSK, Belarus — A former Ukrainian defense minister accused of embezzling $2 million has been granted refugee status in neighboring Belarus.

Mykhailo Yezhel told journalists in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday that he and his family are living in Minsk.

Yezhel could be sentenced to up to six years in prison if he is tried and convicted in Ukraine. He is accused of engaging in widespread corruption as defense minister from 2010-2012 under pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was later ousted in a popular uprising.

Among the specific allegations is that Yezhel stole money meant for army rations and tried to sell Russia two strategic bombers.

Ukraine and Russia have been in conflict since Yanukovych's departure and Russia's subsequent annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

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This story has been corrected to show Yezhel's first name is spelled Mykhailo, not Mikhaylo.

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