Ukraine ex-PM gets 7-year jail for abuse of office

October 11th, 2011 - 5:42 pm ICT by IANS  

Moscow, Oct 11 (IANS/RIA Novosti) Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was given a seven-year prison sentence after being found guilty Tuesday of abuse of office in her signing a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

Judge Rodion Kireev said Tymoshenko had exceeded her powers by personally issuing directives related to the deal.

He also ordered Tymoshenko to pay compensation of $189 million for losses incurred by Ukraine’s gas monopoly Naftogaz.

Tymoshenko said she would contest the conviction, and spoke up as the judge read the verdict, saying the judge was “taking Ukraine’s freedom”. The judge paid no attention and continued reading.

“The verdict won’t stop me,” she said.

Tymoshenko said she would ask the European Court of Human Rights to “defend my honour” and decide whether her conviction was a vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko has consistently claimed the trial is politically motivated and accused President Yanukovych of masterminding the prosecution.

As a convicted criminal, she would be unable to participate in Ukraine’s next presidential elections in 2012.

Tymoshenko said earlier that the severity of her sentence depended on the extent of Yanukovych’s “amorality”.

The process was broadcast live by several Ukrainian TV channels.

Tymoshenko said she was in good health despite her prolonged custody, and would keep fighting the Yanukovych regime.

She called on Ukrainians to join her in the struggle against what she described as the “authoritarian regime” of President Yanukovych.

“I ask you, don’t be afraid of the regime! Ukraine will definitely get rid of this authoritarian regime. A dictatorship and an authoritarian regime will be removed in the near future,” she said during a break in the court hearing at the Pechersky district court in Kiev.

She repeated that she was not guilty, and said the verdict was a falsification.

“No one — not Yanukovych, not Kireev — can degrade my honest name,” she said.

A group of pro-Tymoshenko deputies from her BYuT-Batkyvshina party tried to break into the court earlier during the reading of the verdict.

“You can see what is going on here — they won’t let us in even though that’s illegal,” said one deputy.

A Ukrainian opposition leader said a guilty verdict against Tymoshenko would crush Ukraine’s hopes for associate EU membership.

“If there is a guilty verdict, Ukraine will not be able to sign an association agreement, and we will turn into something like Belarus,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, leader of the Front of Change party, told supporters outside the court in Kiev.

Ukraine is expecting to clinch associate EU membership and free trade zone with the 27 EU nations this year.

“We will ask the European Court to speed up the consideration of the Tymoshenko case,” Yatsenyuk said.

The trial has drawn much criticism from the West.

The EU has voiced its support of Tymoshenko and said that the verdict will be taken into consideration when deciding Europe’s future relations with Ukraine. If Tymoshenko is jailed, Brussels has said it will deny Kiev the EU association agreement it covets.

The gas deal signed with Russia in 2009 linked the price of gas for Ukraine to world oil spot prices. Oil prices subsequently rose sharply, dealing a severe blow to much of Ukraine’s heavy industry such as pipe-making and metallurgy. The current government claims those decisions cost Ukraine huge sums of money.

In April 2010, Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz and Gazprom signed an additional agreement with a discount of $100 per 1,000 cubic meters of Russian gas in exchange for Ukraine’s agreement to extend Russia’s lease on the naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea until at least 2042.

The contract ties Ukraine to importing no less than 33 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia. Ukraine is set to pay about $400 per thousand cubic meters of imported Russian gas in the fourth quarter of this year.

Kiev insists on reducing both the price and the volume of imports.

Until now, Moscow has refused to re-negotiate the deal, saying this was possible only if Ukraine joined a Russia-led customs union, which Ukraine said would go against its goal of integrating with the European Union.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov said in September Moscow had agreed to review the deal, although Gazprom, the Russian gas export monopoly, said there was no such agreement.

President Yanukovych himself has long urged Russia to review the “unfair” pricing formula stipulated in the 2009 contract, but talks have not been successful so far.

–IANS/RIA Novosti
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