Tymoshenko ally gets another prison sentence

Iuri Lutsenko.jpg

A Ukrainian court today (17 August) sentenced Yuri Lutsenko, an ally former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, to two years in prison. It marks the latest conviction in what opposition forces decry as political repression and the EU calls "selective justice."



Lutsenko and Tymoshenko are already serving four- and seven-year sentences respectively for abuse of office.

Lutsenko’s new sentence should not add to his prison time, but the ruling means he could remain behind bars even if the European Court of Human Rights rules against his previous conviction. The Strasbourg-based court has already found his arrest on the initial charges illegal but has yet to rule on the actual verdict.

The latest conviction of Lutsenko centres on charges he authorised extension of surveillance of another former official’s driver as part of an investigation into the poisoning of then-presidential candidate Viktor Yuschenko.

Lutsenko, a former interior minister who was earlier charged with abuse of office and embezzlement, denied wrongdoing in both cases.

"This verdict means that no one can defend himself in this country … there is no justice in this country," Lutsenko told the courtroom from a metal cage where he was seated.

Both Tymoshenko and Lutsenko are prevented from registering as candidates for the 28 October parliamentary elections (see background) because of their convictions.

Reuters quoted Lutsenko’s lawyer, Oleksiy Bohdanets, as saying that Lutsenko would appeal.

Tymoshenko was convicted for abuse of office last October and sentenced to seven years in prison in a case that has damaged Ukraine's relations with the West.

The European Union and the United States say Tymoshenko's jailing and the prosecution of Lutsenko were examples of selective justice.

After she lost the 2010 presidential election to President Viktor Yanukovich in a close run-off, Tymoshenko and a number of her allies faced criminal charges in what she described as a campaign of repression.

Two other former members of Tymoshenko’s cabinet have also been pursued by prosecutors. One, ex-economy minister Bohdan Danylyshyn, has been granted political asylum in the Czech Republic.

Tymoshenko herself is appealing her conviction and at the same time faces trial on fresh charges of tax evasion and embezzlement.

The Parliamentary elections in Ukraine will take place on October 28 with 225 members of parliament to be elected by party list, and 225 in majority districts. On 20 August all registered candidates will be known.

The electoral threshold for parties is 5%. Two political forces have the greatest electoral support in Ukraine: the Party of Regions and the United Opposition (Yulia Tymoshenko’s Batkivschyna in coalition with the Front for change of Arseniy Yatsenyuk). Opinion polls give both main groups 23% of support.

Two more political forces can theoretically get through to the parliament. These are the UDAR party of boxer Vitaliy Klychko (7%) and the Communist party of Ukraine (6%). The party of Nataliya Korolevska, Ukraine – Forward!, which declares liberal views, and the All-Ukrainian Union Svoboda led by Oleh Tyagnybok fell short of the 5% threshold in earlier polls. However, after well-known football player Andriy Shevchenko joined Ukraine – Forward! list, the party’s chances have grown.

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