A court in Kyiv has ruled that former Ukrainian premier Yulia Tymoshenko's involvement in a 2009 gas deal exceeded her legal powers. Tymoshenko claims that the trial is an attempt to silence political opposition.
Tymoshenko has been sentenced to seven years in jail
Ukrainian opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko has been sentenced to seven years in prison for abusing state power in connection with a Russian gas deal she ordered in 2009, a Kyiv court ruled on Tuesday.
During her term as prime minister, Tymoshenko ordered the state energy firm Naftogaz to sign a 10-year contract on gas imports with Russia's Gazprom, which resulted in 137 million euros ($186 million) in losses to the Ukrainian state, according to Judge Rodion Kireyev.
Kireyev said that Tymoshenko had used her power as prime minister "for criminal acts and, acting consciously, committed actions which clearly exceeded the limits of rights and powers."
Prosecutors argued that Tymoshenko was not authorized to order the gas deal. Tymoshenko, however, said she needed no special permission to sign the contract and that the deal ended a price dispute between Moscow and Kyiv that had led to an energy shortage across Europe.
Hundreds of demonstrators gathered outside the Kyiv courthouse to protest against the trial. Tymoshenko claims that the proceeding is an attempt by President Viktor Yanukovych to silence the opposition. The former prime minister ran against Yanukovych in Ukraine's 2010 presidential elections.
Hundreds of Tymoshenko supporters protested the trial
EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton had criticized the trial for "selective application of justice," and said that the EU "will reflect on its policies towards Ukraine" in light of the guilty verdict and seven-year sentence.
"The way Ukrainian authorities will generally respect universal values and rule of law, and specifically how they will handle these cases, risks having profound implications for the EU-Ukraine bilateral relationship," Ashton said.
The EU had previously warned Yanukovych that should Tymoshenko be jailed, its member states would not approve a series of bilateral agreements on association with Ukraine as well as a free trade zone.
"Whatever the sentence pronounced, my struggle will continue," Tymoshenko said. "This sentence, written by Yanukovych, will not change anything in my life or in my struggle."
Tymoshenko vowed to fight her conviction at the European level and accused the Yanukovych government of authoritarianism.
"We will fight to defend my good name in the European Court," the former prime minister said. "We have to be strong and defend Ukraine from this authoritarianism."
Author: Spencer Kimball (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)
Editor: Michael Lawton