Ukraine's Tymoshenko sentenced to seven years in jail over gas deal

A judge has ruled that former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko must also pay almost Dh700m for losses made by state when she approved an unfavourable natural gas deal with Russia.

Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko is embraced by her husband Aleksandr as she is sentenced to seven years in prison for abuse of power. SERGEY DOLZHENKO / EPA
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KIEV // Former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was found guilty yesterday of abuse of office and sentenced to seven years in jail, in a trial widely condemned in the West as politically motivated.

Judge Rodion Kireyev also barred Tymoshenko, now the country's top opposition leader, from occupying government posts for three years after the completion of her prison term and fined her 1.5 billion hryvna (Dh689 million) in damages to the state.

That was the sum, the judge said, that Tymoshenko had caused in losses to taxpayers when, he said, she exceeded her authority as prime minister to approve an unfavourable natural gas import deal with Russia in 2009.

Tymoshenko remained calm, but did not wait for the judge to finish reading the lengthy ruling, standing up from her seat and addressing reporters in the courtroom as he spoke. She compared her verdict, which she claimed was written by her longtime foe, President Viktor Yanukovich, to the horrific purges by the Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"The year 1937 has returned to Ukraine with this verdict and all the repression of citizens," she said, adding that she would contest the ruling. "As for me, be sure that I will not stop my fight even for a minute. I will always be with you as long as it is necessary."

Some five thousand Tymoshenko supporters who had gathered around Kiev's central Perchersk city district court attempted several times to push their way into the court building, or to block traffic on Kiev's main street, Khreschatyk.

Mr Yanukovych was quick to try to ease the fears of the EU, which immediately condemned the verdict.

"It has made the European Union anxious and we understand why this is so," he told reporters. "Today the court took its decision in the framework of the current criminal code. This is not the final decision."

He admitted that "beyond doubt this is a regrettable case which is impeding the European integration of Ukraine today".

The European Union had warned the trial could thwart the signing of an Association Agreement with Ukraine, the first step towards the country's membership of the EU.

* Associated Press with additional reporting by Agence France-Presse