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Ukraine's ex-PM Tymoshenko jailed

Irish Times

Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was  today jailed for seven years for abuse of power in a trial widely condemned in the West as politically motivated.

Ms Tymoshenko, the country’s top opposition leader, was also banned from holding government posts for three years after the end of her sentence and fined 1.5 billion hryvna (€140 million) in damages to the state.

With her trademark peasant-style hairbraid, the slightly-built Ms Tymoshenko has cultivated an image as a no-nonsense firebrand and enjoys almost iconic status in some parts of Ukraine.

Flanked by her daughter, Yevhenia, and her husband, Oleksander, she smiled faintly as sentence was passed by Judge Rodion Kireyev. Ms Tymoshenko remained calm, but did not wait for the judge to finish reading the lengthy ruling, standing up from her seat and addressing reporters in the courtroom as he spoke.

She compared her verdict, which she claimed was written by her long-time foe, president Viktor Yanukovych, to the horrific purges by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

“The year 1937 has returned to Ukraine with this verdict and all the repression of citizens,” she said, adding that she would contest the ruling. “As for me, be sure that I will not stop my fight even for a minute. I will always be with you as long as it is necessary.

“Nobody, not Yanukovych, not Kireyev, can humiliate my honest name. I have worked and will continue to work for Ukraine’s sake,” Ms Tymoshenko said.

Ms Tymoshenko was found guilty of exceeding her authority during the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009. The court ruled that she was not authorised to order the contract signed and that the price she agreed to was too high, causing losses to the state budget.

The EU condemned the verdict as politically motivated and urged the Ukrainian authorities to ensure a transparent and fair appeal. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said in Brussels the trial smacked of "selective" justice. "The EU will reflect on its policies towards Ukraine," she said in a statement on behalf of the EU, an apparent allusion to a planned association agreement that would entail a Ukrainian-EU free trade zone.

Ms Tymoshenko, who denied any wrongdoing, says the trial is a "lynching" by Mr Yanukovich and by those whom she describes as the "criminal oligarchy" backing him. She says as prime minister she did not need any special permission to order the signing of the gas deal and maintains her actions helped end a bitter pricing dispute between Moscow and Kiev, which had led to energy supply shortages across Europe.

The area outside the court building was flooded by helmeted riot police as supporters and opponents of Ms Tymoshenko held competing rallies.Ms Tymoshenko's supporters say the trial outcome reflected Mr Yanukovich's plans to eliminate her as the only real opposition to him. If she ends up serving a long prison term, she will be unable to contest a parliamentary election next year or run again for president in 2015.

Ms Tymoshenko (50), was the driving force behind the 2004 Orange Revolution, which overturned Mr Yanukovych’s fraud-tainted election victory.

Mr Yanukovych staged a comeback, narrowly defeating Ms Tymoshenko in a 2010 presidential vote amid public disenchantment with economic hardships and constant bickering.

Ms Tymoshenko has already spent over two months in jail for contempt of court. Ms Tymoshenko also spent several weeks in prison in 2001 on charges of document forgery and tax evasion, but the charges were later dropped.

EU diplomats had urged Mr Yanukovich to use his powers to "decriminalise" the charge against her - reclassifying it as an administrative rather than a criminal offence - to allow her to go free. There was no sign of a move in this direction when the
trial resumed.

Mr Yanukovich later offered a hint that this might still be on the cards. Referring to her likely recourse to the Appeals Court, he was quoted by Interfax news agency as saying: "It goes without saying that the decision (the court) will take and within what legislative framework it will take its decision - this will have great significance."

Posted Date: 
12 October 2011