March 6 (Bloomberg) -- A Ukrainian court stripped lawmaker Serhiy Vlasenko, an ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko of his parliamentary seat, widening a rift with the European Union and the U.S.
Ukraine’s High Administrative Court unseated Vlasenko today at the request of House Speaker Volodymyr Rybak, who said the lawmaker continued to work as a lawyer. Vlasenko denied the allegation, saying he stopped practicing law in 2008, though he has advised the defense counsel of Tymoshenko, who is accused of being involved in the murder of a politician in 1996.
The EU postponed an association and free-trade agreement with Ukraine indefinitely after Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and political foe of President Viktor Yanukovych, was jailed in 2011, a move the EU and U.S. to considered “selective justice.” The EU has given the former Soviet republic three months to carry out changes to its justice and electoral systems to seal the trade pact.
“We note with particular concern efforts to deprive Serhiy Vlasenko of his seat in Parliament, his corresponding immunity from prosecution, and his right to travel outside Ukraine,” Patrick Ventrell, acting deputy spokesman at the U.S. State Department, said in an e-mailed note today. “We call on Ukrainian authorities to end politically motivated prosecutions of opposition leaders and abide by international commitments to the rule of law and democracy.”
Tymoshenko, who denies all charges, is already serving seven years in prison for abuse of power for signing a 10-year natural gas accord with Russia when she was premier in January 2009.
EU Commissioners Catherine Ashton and Stefan Fule are paying “particular attention to the situation related to the case of Vlasenko” and “call on Ukrainian authorities to address this situation so as to avoid creating any perception of misuse of the judiciary for political purposes,” the two said in an e-mailed statement yesterday.
Opposition parties, including Tymoshenko’s party, world boxing champion Vitali Klitschko’s UDAR party and the Svoboda party, have physically blocked the parliament for two days, protesting the move against Vlasenko.
“Their goal is to knock off protection from Tymoshenko,” Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the leader of Tymoshenko’s party group in the legislature, said after the court’s verdict. “An appeal will be prepared tonight to be filed to the European Court of Human Rights.”