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Ukraine's Former Prime Minister Charged With Abuse Of Office

December 20, 2010

(RFE/RL) -- Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has been charged with abuse of power during the years she served as prime minister -- 2007 to 2010.

Her spokeswoman made the announcement after Tymoshenko appeared with her lawyer before authorities today for questioning.

Tymoshenko told reporters outside the prosecutor’s office that she had been ordered to remain in Kyiv during the investigation and read the charges out loud. "Tymoshenko (Yulia V.), acting intentionally, with personal interest, unilaterally decided to use part of the funds received from the sale of greenhouse gas quotas and had specific allotment, in order to cover Ukraine's state budget expenditures for the payment of pensions," she read.

The charges stem from Tymoshenko’s alleged misuse of state funds while she was the country’s prime minister. Prosecutors have accused her of using money from the sale of carbon emissions to make up a shortfall in state pension payments.

Under the Kyoto Protocol’s global warming protocol, businesses buy credits from the government in exchange for being allowed to emit carbon dioxide. The money earned by governments through the sale of the credits is meant to be used toward efforts to further combat emissions.

No Fear

Auditors hired by President Viktor Yanukovych’s government published a report in October that concluded Tymoshenko had misused the carbon trade funds.

Tymoshenko narrowly lost a presidential election in February to Yanukovych and has said repeatedly that the accusations against her are politically motivated.

Today she had a message for the president. “I would like to address Victor Yanukovych. Neither myself, nor people that are standing here to support me, nor millions of Ukrainians, are afraid. You should be afraid. And because of this fear you beat people, humiliate, kill, send to prison. But this will not save you.”

Tymoshenko said the money allotted for the Kyoto Protocol “was not being spent and that her government had “used funds from a single line item of the budget … that had no purpose or designation." She said she told the investigators that the money in question -- 320 million euro ($425 million) -- was not misappropriated and was intact.

On her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party website, Tymoshenko posted a statement that said, “This looks really absurd. This is how the President of Ukraine is getting rid of his main competitor."

Of the charges against her, she said, "I paid pensions to people but this is not a crime under Ukraine's law.”

A Political Ploy?

The charges against Tymoshenko are just the latest in a string of investigations launched against former members of her government.

Former environment minister Georgy Filipchuk is also being investigated on charges related to the use of money from the carbon emission fund, former interior minister Yuri Lutsenko was charged on December 13 with the same crime, and former economy minister Bogdan Danylyshyn has been arrested and accused of squandering nearly $2 million of public funds.

Political analyst Yuri Yakymenko sees the arrests as a partly a reflection of Yanukovych’s desire to distract the public from harsh economic austerity measures his government has implemented.

“The government is facing new, unpopular decisions regarding pension reform and labor codes. At the same time, it is [losing] support, people’s dissatisfaction is growing," he said. "Thus, there is a need to divert attention to the former political team and its leadership as the main culprits of what is happening today.”

But analyst Mykhaylo Pohrebinsky says the public is unlikely to see the investigations of Tymoshenko and her former deputies as anything less than politically motivated.

“The current government is trying to discredit the top opposition leader, despite the fact that lately she has been losing support. It is impossible that Ukrainians will be convinced that this is not a political persecution. However, that’s what the authorities are doing. It is likely that everything will end in conditional punishment.” he said.

Pohrebinsky says if the government jails Tymoshenko, it will have handed her a golden opportunity to win back support and stage a triumphant return to the political stage.

In comments posted on her website, Tymoshenko signaled that the prospect of jail doesn’t frighten her. “I will never leave, hide in hospital or go abroad, like Yanukovych and his supporters did in 2005, when they scattered all across the world,” she wrote. “I will remain in Ukraine and show up each time I am called in for questioning.”

She added, “I am not afraid of anything.”

written by Heather Maher with additional reporting by Maryana Drach of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service.


Copyright (c) 2010. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.