Thursday

27th Feb 2020

Ukraine ignores EU outcry, opens second case against Tymoshenko

  • Gas pipe in Tymoshenko's home town of Dnipropetrovsk. Vydrin: 'Ukraine's pipeline network is used to import political corruption, not gas' (Photo: gTarded)

Ukraine has filed a second case against former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko that could see her jailed for 12 years and forced to pay $405 million, despite an EU outcry against her first sentence for seven years and a $188 million fine.

The state security service, the SBU, said on Thursday (13 October) it has launched the proceedings over an alleged embezzlement dating back to 1997 when Tymoshenko's old company, United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), supplied Russian gas to Ukrainian factories.

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Her lawyer, Yuriy Sukhov, told EUobserver last week, amid rumours the second case was coming, the charges are "absurd" because the $405 million debt to Russia is owed by the defunct UESU, not by Tymoshenko personally.

One of her MPs, Sergiy Pashinskyi, said the case is invalid because the time lag exceeds Ukraine's statute of limitations. He added that stories of Tymoshenko's vast wealth are untrue and that family and friends are helping pay her legal costs.

The SBU case will fuel the fire of EU criticism that President Viktor Yanukovych is abusing the law in order to destroy his main political rival ahead of next year's elections.

SBU chief, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, is a political ally of Yanukovych and is said to nurture ambitions of becoming finance minister. The SBU itself is supposed to monitor threats to national security instead of investigating financial crimes. Its black-leather-jacket-clad officers also spend time threatening and trying to bribe independent journalists.

Meanwhile, Russia is playing a double game.

The SBU says Russia in June asked Ukraine to pay back the $405 million. But Moscow's official line is that, while Tymoshenko is liable for the debt, they are willing to let it slide for the sake of good neighbourly relations. The Russian position is designed to make both Tymoshenko and Yanukovych look like crooks in a bid to discourage the EU from building closer ties with the country.

The new corruption case could open a pandora's box of allegations strengthening Russia's line that Ukraine is not fit to finalise an EU trade and political association treaty this year.

Pashinskyi last week already threatened to file a criminal case on unspecified charges against Yanukovych if he went ahead with the $405 million prosecution. Yanukovych's prime minister, Mykola Azarov, his energy minister Yuriy Boyko and one of his chief financial sponsors, oligarch Dmitry Firtash, could also become targets for legal counter attacks.

The EU ambassador in Ukraine, Jose Manuel Pinto-Texeira, at a business fair in Yalta last week said abuse of power has become worse since Yanukovych took up office: "Corruption is the result of everything else, a symptom of the problem ... Over the last year and a half there has been a trend in Ukraine, several developments, that indicate a deterioration in pluralism of democracy."

EUobserver understands British and US companies have submitted a list to top EU officials of some 50 cases of 'corporate raiding' under Yanukovych - a practice in which firms linked to regime members seize majority shareholdings in Ukrainian companies funded by Western investors. Some of the cases name ministers in the Yanukovych cabinet.

For his part, Dmytro Vydrin, a former Tymoshenko MP-turned Yanukovych advisor, told this website "nothing has changed" in terms of corruption under the current administration.

Vydrin said businessmen still bring suitcases full of US dollars to parliament to buy favours. MPs themselves have to pay up to $5 million to political parties to buy income-generating seats in the Verkhovna Rada. "When fights break out in parliament, some MPs' guns fall out on the floor, but they use parliamentary immunity to avoid punishment," he noted.

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