Court delays Tymoshenko appeal

 

A Ukrainian court has delayed an appeal by jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko against her conviction for abuse of power, postponing a decision that could embarrass Ukraine while it stages the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.

The high court in Kiev supported a call by state prosecutors for the hearing to be postponed pending a medical examination of Ms Tymoshenko to establish whether she was fit to attend proceedings. It fixed the next hearing for July 12th.

A similar ruling was made by a court in Kharkiv yesterday relating to a second trial of Ms Tymoshenko for alleged tax evasion. That court adjourned until July 10th.

The outcome of legal proceedings against Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and heroine of the Orange Revolution street protests in Ukraine, could shape the former Soviet republic's relations with the European Union for years.

Both court rulings mean that authorities have effectively avoided sensitive hearings that risk generating further bad publicity for the leadership of president Viktor Yanukovich while the high-profile European soccer championship is going on.

Ukraine is co-host of the Euro 2012 tournament with Poland, with the final due to take place in Kiev on July 1st.

Ms Tymoshenko, who could not attend the Kiev hearing because she is receiving medical treatment for back trouble, is appealing against conviction and a seven-year jail sentence imposed last year for alleged abuse of power. The charge relates to a 2009 gas deal with Russia which she brokered as prime minister and which Mr Yanukovich's government says saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas imports.

The trial and her conviction have caused outrage among Western governments which say it smacks of "selective justice" and have derailed Ukraine's relations with the EU. The charismatic 51-year-old politician says she is the victim of a vendetta by Mr Yanukovich, her fierce political foe who narrowly beat her for the presidency in February 2010.

The EU has shelved agreements on free trade and political association with Ukraine and a number of European politicians have boycotted Euro 2012 matches played there. So far, pressure from the EU has had no effect.

Mr Yanukovich has said he will not intervene before all the trials and appeals are over.

Ukrainian prosecutors, meanwhile, have heaped fresh charges on Ms Tymoshenko, saying they suspect her of involvement in a 1996 contract killing.

Reuters