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Ukraine ex-prime minister convicted of abuse of power

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Ukraine’s former prime minister and leading opposition figure was found guilty of abuse of power and sentenced to seven years in prison Tuesday in a widely expected verdict that underscored the country’s deep political divisions.

Yulia Tymoshenko, who more than once during her trial accused the judge of acting on behalf of her rival, President Viktor Yanukovich, was convicted of exceeding her powers in signing a gas deal with Russia in January 2009 that the judge said had cost the state-owned gas company about $200 million.

“Taking into account … the high social danger of the crime that Tymoshenko committed, her personality and the lack of any kind of remorse, the court doesn’t find any ground for imposing a softer punishment,” said Judge Rodion Kireyev, who also ruled that the 50-year-old former prime minister should compensate Naftagas Ukraine, the natural gas company, for the full cost of its losses.

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Tymoshenko will not be able to hold any government position for three years after her release, the judge ruled.

The former prime minister, who sat defiantly with her husband and daughter at her side through most of the day, stood near the end of the reading of the verdict and interrupted the judge. Tymoshenko shouted that she disagreed with the verdict and called on Ukrainians to unite against what she labeled repression reminiscent of the Stalinist era.

“I declare that [1937] has returned and I call upon all the people to protect Ukraine against totalitarianism,” she said in courtroom remarks televised by the Russia-24 television network. “Don’t lose spirit and we will overcome the authoritarian regime together.”

The charismatic Tymoshenko, popularly called the princess of the 2004 Orange Revolution, came under fire from law enforcement agencies shortly after she lost the 2010 presidential election to Yanukovich by more than 3 percentage points.

Her opponents hailed the verdict and predicted more trials ahead. The former prime minister may face high treason charges, said Inna Bogoslovskaya, a lawmaker from Yanukovich’s Party of Regions.

“It would be proper to call her a gas princess who was acting in the interests of Russia when she signed the infamous deal which set up Ukraine for 10 years with ludicrously unfair gas prices,” said Bogoslovskaya, who also heads the national parliament’s commission to investigate the signing of the 2009 deal.

“Based on numerous documents,” she said in a telephone interview, “we have established that, at the time of signing the gas deal, companies controlled by Tymoshenko and her family owed more than $400 million to the Russian Defense Ministry for earlier deals and she was acting under foreign influence.”

Bogoslovskaya maintained that the verdict set a necessary precedent by “breaking the vicious circle which left crimes committed by high-rank state officials unpunished.”

The Russian Foreign Ministry lashed out at the verdict, emphasizing its “obvious anti-Russian implication.”

A top European Union official also questioned the verdict, saying the trial had not met international legal standards.

Catherine Ashton, the official, said the verdict threatened “profound implications for the EU-Ukrainian relationship,” a potential setback for the Yanukovich government’s efforts to improve the nation’s standing in the West.

After her sentencing, Tymoshenko was led out of the courtroom and taken away in a gray prison van. Several hundred supporters in the streets tried to break through the police cordons. In video shown by television channel Russia-24, protesters threw flowers under the wheels of the van and chanted, “Yulia!Yulia!”

The opposition plans to intensify protests in an attempt to bring down the parliament and force a new election, said Natalia Korolevskaya, a lawmaker with Tymoshenko’s BYuT alliance.

“We need to mobilize a maximum number of people and unite all the opposition forces in their struggle against the unfair verdict,” Korolevskaya said in a telephone interview. “The verdict of Tymoshenko is a verdict of the entire country, further curbing the people’s constitutional rights and freedoms.”

sergei.loiko@latimes.com


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