Ukraine ex-premier's lawyer asks court to free her

AP News
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Posted: Sep 28, 2011 8:55 AM
Ukraine ex-premier's lawyer asks court to free her

The abuse of office charges against former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are unfounded and absurd, her lawyers declared Wednesday, asking the court to acquit her and release her from jail.

Tymoshenko, now the country's top opposition leader, is accused of violating legal procedures in the signing of a natural gas import contract with Russia in 2009. Prosecutors have asked the court to sentence her to seven years in prison and bar her from occupying government posts for three years.

Tymoshenko maintains her innocence and says the trial has been orchestrated by her archenemy, President Viktor Yanukovych, in order to bar her from future elections as a convicted felon.

The United States and the European Union have also sharply criticized the trial as politically motivated and officials in Brussels have warned that jailing Tymoshenko may cost Ukraine a landmark partnership agreement with the European Union.

Tymoshenko, 50, a charismatic but divisive figure, maintains her innocence and says as prime minister, she didn't need any special permission for the deal. She has been in custody since her arrest nearly two months ago on charges of contempt of court.

Tymoshenko's defense lawyer Yuri Sukhov said in his closing speech at the trial that prosecutors have failed to prove her guilt.

Prosecutors have also asked the court to fine Tymoshenko an equivalent of $190,000 (euro140,000) for the damages she allegedly caused the state by signing the contract at a price they believe to be inflated. Another Tymoshenko attorney, Olexandr Plakhotnyuk, dismissed that request as absurd, saying prosecutors have failed to provide evidence for the alleged damages.

Maja Kocijancic, a spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, issued yet another warning to Kiev over the case Wednesday.

"We underline to Ukrainian authorities the need for respect for the rule of law incorporating fair, impartial and independent legal process," she said. "We also know the danger of provoking any perception that judicial measures are used selectively and we stress the importance of assuring the maximum transparency of investigations, prosecutions and trials."

Hopes for Tymoshenko's release were dimmed Wednesday after it became clear that legal reforms proposed by Yanukovych apparently would not affect Tymoshenko's case. Yanukovych had floated the idea of decriminalizing certain economic crimes, but the text of his bill posted on parliament's website Wednesday contained no mention of Tymoshenko's charge.

Yanukovych's spokeswoman Darka Chepak confirmed to The Associated Press that Tymoshenko's case will not be affected by the proposed change.

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Raf Casert contributed to this report from Brussels.