Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Ukraine: Ukraine Court Sentences Tymoshenko To Seven Years In Jail

RFE/RL Copyright (c) 2011. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

Ukraine Court Sentences Tymoshenko To Seven Years In Jail


KYIV -- Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been jailed for seven years and penalized tens of millions of dollars over abuse-of-office charges in a verdict the European Union says could have "profound implications" for relations.

The accusations stem from a 2009 natural-gas deal Tymoshenko signed with Russia.

Judge Rodion Kireyev said Tymoshenko's actions had caused the state damages amounting to 1.5 billion hryvna (some $190 million) and he fined her that amount.

In addition to her prison term, she will be barred from holding a government position for three more years.

As the lengthy verdict was being read out, there was angry reaction from thousands of Tymoshenko's supporters who had gathered outside of the courtroom ahead of the ruling. Hundreds of police, many in riot gear, were deployed in Kyiv's central Pechersk district to prevent violence. (See video below.)

Police said a dozen people were arrested.

'Defend My Good Name'

Tymoshenko compared the verdict to the 1930s purges by Soviet dictator Josef Stalin, telling journalists she will file an appeal.

"We will fight and we will defend my good name in court," she said. "And I am confident that the European Court of Human Rights will make a legitimate, lawful decision.

"But today, this court has simply demonstrated that justice has been crushed in Ukraine -- already after the constitution and your rights and freedoms had been crushed -- and nobody in Ukraine can rely on [the court system]."

Tymoshenko -- who came to international prominence as a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution that doomed Yanukovych's first bid to become Ukraine's president -- says the case is part of a political vendetta by Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in Ukraine's 2010 presidential election.

European officials were unanimous in declaring the prosecution and conviction politically motivated and a gross miscarriage of the legal process.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton issued a sharply worded statement saying the bloc is "deeply disappointed" with the verdict and asserting the trial did not meet international judicial standards.

"The way the Ukrainian authorities will generally respect universal values and rule of law, and specifically how they will handle these cases, risks having profound implications for the EU-Ukraine bilateral relationship, including for the conclusion of the Association Agreement, our political dialogue, and our cooperation more broadly," the statement read.

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt posted on Twitter: "We have reacted strongly against the…sentence against Yulia Tymoshenko in Ukraine. This will endanger the entire relationship."

Before the ruling in Kyiv, the EU was expected to sign the Deep and Comprehensive Free Trade Area (DCFTA) deal and the Association Agreement with Ukraine before the end of the year. Those talks will continue, but it seems increasingly unlikely that the pacts would be ratified by the EU.

Speaking to reporters in Frankfurt, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said, “We can't just act like nothing has happened and return to daily business.”

“I rely on the European Union finding a consolidated answer, because then Ukraine will understand," he said.

'Selective' Justice

In other reactions, Amnesty International called for Tymoshenko's immediate release, saying she had been convicted of charges that are "not internationally recognizable offenses."

And Lithuanian Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis, who holds the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, called on Ukraine to demonstrate "the utmost transparency" in the appeals process. He reminded Kyiv that OSCE members "have a duty to uphold the rule of law" and avoid "the selective application of justice."

Ukraine will take over the OSCE chairmanship in 2013.

In a statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry deplored the "clear anti-Russian subtext of the entire episode."

It said Moscow "respects…the independence of the judicial system of Ukraine," but notes that "the leadership of many countries and global organizations views the entire judicial process as initiated exclusively on the basis of political motives."

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who oversaw the signing of the 2009 gas deal, told reporters, “I don't quite understand why [Tymoshenko] was sentenced to seven years."

But Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko said Moscow was expressing concern over the verdict because “they got [so] much from that deal that they would have never gotten from anyone else.”

Negative reaction to the verdict also came from Washington, where U.S. State Department spokesperson Victoria Nuland said, “We’ve certainly made clear our concerns to the Ukrainian government”:

"The United States is deeply disappointed with the conviction and sentencing of former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko in a politically motivated prosecution," she added. "Her conviction raises serious concerns about the government of Ukraine's commitment to democracy and the rule of law. We urge the government of Ukraine to free Ms. Tymoshenko and other political leaders and former government officials currently in detention."

In the wake of Tymoshenko's sentencing, Kyiv said it might seek a way to mollify international critics.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said on October 11 that the verdict "is not the final decision," noting that the defense plans to appeal.

He also said it is still unclear "in the framework of which legislation" the final decision will be made -- an apparent reference to a bill currently in the Ukrainian parliament that could alter the situation surrounding the Tymoshenko trial.

Several versions of the bill offered by the opposition would have decriminalized the acts for which Tymoshenko was convicted, but those versions have been rejected.

Now the Verkhovna Rada is considering a version of the bill submitted by the Yanukovych administration that doesn't make direct reference to the charges against Tymoshenko.

'I Have Doubts'

European Parliament President Jerzy Buzek also expressed hope that the law will be amended to ameliorate the Tymoshenko case as it moves through the appeals process.

"I have doubts that this trial was fair, transparent, and truly independent," he said. "Ukraine is a great nation that deserves better. I hope the Criminal Code will be amended soon to be fully compatible with European standards."

Parliamentary deputy Mykola Tomenko, a member of Tymoshenko's party, told RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service the opposition might boycott upcoming elections if Tymoshenko and former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko -- detained in a similar investigation -- are not allowed to participate.

And he echoed a call by Tymoshenko for demonstrations.

"The opposition will consider boycotting parliamentary elections if Tymoshenko and Lutsenko are not allowed to participate," he said. "I think that this will lead society to not only write on Facebook, but to be together with us today at the rally. Then, not only 5,000 people will participate, but 50,000 or 500,000. If there will be 50,000, then the situation will be different. So, my proposal is not to sit around surfing the Internet and drinking beer, but to be on the street when one has to protect democracy."

written by Rikard Jozwiak, Ron Synovitz, Robert Coalson, and Richard Solash with contributions from RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and agency reports