Ukraine slams Russia 'confiscation' of chocolate factories

KIEV - The Kiev government condemned Russia on Thursday for "confiscating" chocolate factories run by the Ukrainian confectionary giant Roshen and owned by a billionaire who could run for the presidency.

The foreign affairs and economy ministries said Russian riot police on Wednesday seized the factories in the Lipetsk region, about 500 kilometres (310 miles) from Moscow.

"The Russian authorities carried out the de-facto confiscation of Roshen's production capabilities in Russia," the ministries said, urging Moscow to "immediately cease" action blocking the firm's operations.

A Roshen spokesman told Russia's official news agency ITAR-TASS that the company's production in Russia was halted on Wednesday after a raid ordered by prosecutors.

The company, whose sweets are very popular across the former Soviet Union, is controlled by Petro Poroshenko, who helped finance protests that ousted pro-Moscow president Viktor Yanukovych last month.

A former economy minister, Poroshenko is among the favourites in opinion polls ahead of a May 25 presidential election, although he has yet to confirm his candidacy.

Russia banned imports of Roshen chocolates in July, saying they failed to meet its sanitary standards, a move Kiev said was politically motivated by its European ambitions.

The company was able to continue production at its Russian factories.

In February, however, it was forced to shut down a factory in southern Ukraine as a result of the Russian ban on imports.