Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko has denounced as "an outright lie, slander and fake" a report that he secured a White House meeting with US president Donald Trump thanks to a secret payment of hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The BBC reported that the brief meeting last June was arranged after unnamed intermediaries acting for Mr Poroshenko paid at least $400,000 to Michael Cohen, Mr Trump's personal lawyer and long-time associate.
"An outright lie, slander and fake. That is how we regard the disinformation that a meeting between the presidents of Ukraine and the US was arranged for money," Mr Poroshenko's office declared in a statement.
“The Ukrainian-American summit of June 2017 was organised solely through official diplomatic channels,” it added.
The report was part of “a fake campaign to discredit Ukrainian-American relations and a personal attack on the presidents” of both countries, Mr Poroshenko’s administration said, while warning of possible legal action if the BBC did not withdraw its claims.
The broadcaster cited an unnamed senior intelligence officer in Mr Poroshenko’s administration as saying Kiev had sought Mr Cohen’s help after its lobbyists in Washington had failed to arrange more than a brief photo opportunity with Mr Trump.
The intelligence officer told the BBC that Mr Cohen had been paid $400,000 for his help, while another source in Kiev put the figure at $600,000.
“This story is completely false,” Mr Cohen told Reuters in a text message.
He is under investigation for possible fraud and over a payment made to porn actress Stephanie Clifford, better known as Stormy Daniels, who claims to have had an affair with Mr Trump and received hush money to keep it quiet.
Mr Poroshenko hailed last year's brief talks with Mr Trump as proof of strong US-Ukraine ties, amid deep concern in Kiev that the White House could drop its support for the embattled nation in favour of a rapprochement with Russia.
The BBC cited an unnamed source in Kiev as saying Mr Poroshenko had smoothed relations by giving Mr Trump "a gift" by ensuring that Ukrainian prosecutors would not help a US investigation into his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort.
He left Mr Trump's campaign in August 2016, amid claims that between 2007-2012 he received more than $12 million in secret payments from Viktor Yanukovich, a former pro-Kremlin Ukrainian president who fled to Russia in 2014.
Mr Manafort is a prominent figure in the investigation of US special counsel Robert Mueller into possible Russian collusion with Mr Trump's team during the 2016 US presidential election campaign.
"Speculation around the so-called freezing of the Manafort case . . . is totally at odds with reality," Ukrainian prosecutor general Yuri Lutsenko said, noting that his office had sought US help at least four times in cases that involve the spin doctor.
Mr Mueller had asked Kiev for information last autumn in connection with his collusion investigation, Mr Lutsenko said, adding that he had offered “full co-operation” in February and suggested that his colleagues and the US special prosecutor establish “a joint investigative team”.