Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych rejected “political” pressure over the jailing of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko, saying an appeal to Europe’s human-rights court would only confirm the legality of her conviction.
Yanukovych said the former Soviet republic has hired U.S. law company Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP to evaluate the case against Tymoshenko, whose imprisonment has prompted European officials to skip matches in the European soccer championship Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland. While an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights by her lawyers may find procedural infringements, no legal violations would be uncovered, the president said.
“Political pressure is being applied to Ukraine,” Yanukovych said yesterday in an interview in his office in Kiev, the capital. “I want people to look at the Tymoshenko problem from a legal perspective.”
The signing of an Association Agreement between Ukraine and the European Union has been postponed indefinitely because of Tymoshenko’s imprisonment, while EU commissioners and other leaders from the continent are boycotting Euro 2012 games in the country. She says the case against her was engineered by Yanukovych to silence opposition before parliamentary elections.
Tymoshenko was handed a seven-year prison sentence in October after a court ruled she overstepped her authority as prime minister when signing a 2009 natural-gas pact with Russia. The EU, the U.S, and Russia have condemned her conviction.
Support for Yanukovych’s Party of Regions plunged to 15.1 percent from 28.5 percent in October 2010, a poll by the Kiev-based International Institute of Sociology showed. The May 23-June 1 survey of 2,040 people had margin of error of 2 percent, the institute said on its website today. Tymoshenko’s party was backed by 14.4 percent, up from 9.9 percent, it said.
Tymoshenko’s prosecution was carried out in a transparent and legal manner, Yanukovych said. Ukraine lost $12 billion in the last two years as a result of the Russian gas contract and pays more than any other nation for the fuel, he added.
Prosecutors are seeking to file additional charges against Tymoshenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution that helped overturn Yanukovych’s 2004 presidential win, alleging tax evasion when she headed gas trader United Energy Systems in the 1990s. She was also complicit in the murder of lawmaker Yevhen Shcherban 16 years ago and may still be charged, First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin said April 6. Tymoshenko denies that allegation.
“Crimes carried out in various criminal cases were carried out with Tymoshenko’s participation,” Yanukovych said. “This isn’t a secret for the whole world -- this happened. Including Shcherban’s murder. There were motives.”
Yanukovych’s comments on Tymoshenko’s involvement in Shcherban’s murder destroy “any illusions of independence among prosecutors and the courts,” her party said today in a statement on its website.