By Greg Hall
Impunity Watch Reporter, Europe
KIEV, Ukraine – Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko will likely remain in jail for abusing her powers while negotiating a natural gas import contract from Russia. A Ukrainian court sentenced her to seven years in jail, banned her from holding public office for three years, and imposed a fine. Her case will be heard again by an appeals court but the appeals court is likely to uphold the conviction. Tymoshenko’s attorney, Serhiy Vlasenko, asserted that President Viktor Yanukovych is intent on keeping the opposition leader behind bars.
Vlasenko is not alone in her assertions. The United States, Russia and the European Union have also condemned the court ruling as politically motivated. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland, said her country was “deeply disappointed”, calling it a “politically motivated prosecution … [raising] serious concern about the government of Ukraine’s commitment to democracy and the law”.
Maja Kocijancic, spokeswoman for EU foreign affairs commissioner Catherine Ashton, said: “The EU is very disappointed with the verdict,” and that the court “did not meet the international standards for a just, transparent, and independent judicial procedure”. Despite international pressure, Yanukovych has refused to release her. Yanukovych loyalists in the parliament will likely turn down a bill being proposed to significantly decrease the sentence for the crime which Tymoshenko was convicted.
Tymoshenko is accused of going beyond her authority to negotiate a gas contract with Russia. This deal is believed to have hurt the Ukrainian economy. Russian officials are puzzled how a legally enforceable contract can be the cause of a criminal proceeding. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov responded to the verdict, saying it was highly politicized. “We cannot accept that a legitimate contract that remains in force and which has never been legally challenged may be cause for a court ruling like today’s,” said Russia’s top diplomat.
Tymoshenko insists that she is being kept behind bars so Yanukovych can remain in power and be unchallenged. Her arrest and detention has gained international attention for violating human rights. Vlasenko wants to bring this case before the European Court of Human Rights in hopes of overturning the Ukrainian court. There is some contention as to whether or not that court’s decision will be binding on Ukraine.
The Main Department of the Tax Militia of the State Tax Service has reopened an investigation into the United Energy Systems of Ukraine dating back to 1996-97. The investigation reopens yet another criminal case involving Tymoshenko. This case accuses her of embezzling 405 million dollars of state funds. If found guilty of that crime, she could face another 12 years behind bars.
Vlasenko is reporting that Tymoshenko is suffering from severe back pain. Despite such pain, investigators questioned her in her jail cell. Ukrainian officials stated that she has received the proper medical attention but would not go into any details. Vlasenko believes that Ukrainian authorities will feel significantly more pressure to release Tymoshenko if the European Court of Human Rights reverses the conviction.
For more information, please see:
Russia Now – Yulia Tymoshenko Verdict Condemned by Russia, EU and US – 14 November 2011
Unian – Vlasenko: Investigators Illegally Presented Yulia Tymoshenko with New Charges – 11 November 2011
Washington Post – Lawyer: Ukraine’s ex-PM Tymoshenko Likely to Remain in Jail for Many Months – 11 November 2011