Ukrainian Court Sentences Tymoshenko

Posted October 11th, 2011 at 6:55 am (UTC-5)
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A judge in Ukraine has handed down the maximum seven year prison sentence to former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko in connection with charges of abuse-of-office. Ms. Tymoshenko says she will appeal the verdict.

Judge Rodion Kireyev said Ms. Tymoshenko, now an opposition leader, clearly exceeded her authority in signing a 2009 gas deal with Russia.

Prosecutors in Kyiv said the deal with Russia caused a nearly $200 million budget loss for Ukraine.

Thousands of Ms. Tymoshenko's Fatherland Party supporters are rallying in front of the main courthouse in Kyiv.

The former prime minister has repeatedly said she is innocent. She has described the trial as “a political lynching,” aimed at allowing President Viktor Yanukovych to rid himself of a political rival.

The European Union and the United States have said they believe the trial is politically motivated.

The verdict is expected to have a major impact on Ukraine's aspirations to sign an association agreement with the European Union, a key first step toward gaining EU membership. EU diplomats have warned that planned bilateral agreements on political association and free trade may never be ratified if Ms. Tymoshenko ends up in jail or is barred from running for office before the 2012 parliamentary election.

Ms. Tymoshenko was expected to be the main opposition candidate in next year's election, but is not be eligible to run if the conviction is upheld.

She is one of some 400 officials under investigation for crimes allegedly committed while in office. Critics have noted that the only cases to come to trial involve political opposition figures.

Ms. Tymoshenko rose to fame in 2004 as a leader of Ukraine's “Orange Revolution” street protests, which forced the Supreme Court to toss out the results of a disputed election won by Mr. Yanukovych. Mr. Yanukovych won the last presidential election in 2010.