KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine made fresh charges against former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Monday as the Kiev leadership dug in its heels despite a Western outcry over her jailing for seven years for abuse of office.
Tymoshenko’s imprisonment on Oct. 11 for exceeding her authority by doing an unfavourable gas pricing deal with Russia in 2009 sparked outrage in the West and endangers the signing of a key agreement between Ukraine and the EU.
The opposition leader says she is the victim of a political vendetta by President Viktor Yanukovich who narrowly beat her to the presidency last year. The EU and the United States say her trial was politically motivated and they want her released.
Lawyers for Tymoshenko said she had decided on Monday to appeal and papers would be filed on Tuesday.
There is no sign that the sharp reaction from the EU, which called off a planned meeting with Yanukovich in Brussels on Oct. 20 in protest, has influenced thinking in the Kiev leadership.
The state prosecutor’s office said it was re-activating an old charge of embezzlement against Tymoshenko going back to the mid-1990s when she ran energy company, Unified Energy Systems.
Spokesman Yuri Boichenko said the state prosecutor’s office had reversed a 2005 decision to drop the case against Tymoshenko after the “Orange Revolution” protests swept her to power as prime minister.
“This decision was taken hurriedly, without reason and must be cancelled,” Boichenko told journalists.
He said the revived case included charges of tax evasion amounting to 20 million hryvnia ($2.5 million) and theft of 25 million hryvnias ($3.1 million).
Apart from the charge for which she has been jailed, Tymoshenko, who was prime minister until she lost the election battle with Yanukovich, is being investigated in connection with three other criminal cases.
The latest move by the general prosecutor appeared to confirm the view that the Yanukovich leadership is determined to keep Tymoshenko locked up for the time being and must now work on a new strategy in its relationship with the European Union.
“The new cases confirm that a decision has been made earlier to put Tymoshenko in prison,” said Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at Ukrainian think tank Penta.
“Also, this is an attempt to discredit Tymoshenko in the eyes of the West.”
Yanukovich played down the significance of being cold-shouldered by the EU last Thursday, saying with bravado that he would not “go begging” to Brussels.
For the time being at least, though, he is not going back on his commitment to taking his former Soviet republic into mainstream Europe.
The 27-member bloc though is now itself divided over how to handle Ukraine which is the cornerstone of its Eastern neighbourhood policy with some former Soviet states.
An association agreement, which includes creation of a free trade zone, had been due to be signed at the end of the year. But some EU diplomats are now questioning whether a Ukraine-EU summit will be held at all.
Other charges against Tymoshenko include alleged misuse of government funds received in exchange for emission quotas sold to Japan under the Kyoto protocol and use of ambulances, purchased by the government, for political campaigning.
A new charge brought against her since she was jailed alleges that she took part in a “criminal conspiracy” 15 years ago to embezzle state funds through gas purchases from Russia, resulting in $405 million of debt to Russia.
This charge also dates back to her leadership of UES energy company in the 1990s when sleaze, crime and corruption were rife in post-Soviet Ukraine.
It was Tymoshenko’s direction of the company, which imported Russian gas for resale in Ukraine, from 1995-96 that earned her the nickname of “gas princess”.
Additional reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Editing by Louise Ireland