KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian state prosecutors urged a high court on Tuesday to reject the appeal of jailed ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko against her conviction for abuse of office, a case Western leaders have condemned as politically motivated.
Judges later withdrew to consider their decision which opposition figures and defence lawyers, anxious for a quick ruling, expected to be announced only in mid-September. Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence.
Prosecutors argued that Tymoshenko’s guilt had been clearly established at her trial last year. The abuse of office conviction relates to a gas deal which Tymoshenko, 51, brokered with Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister.
The government of President Viktor Yanukovich says the agreement was reckless and saddled the former Soviet republic with an enormous price for strategic supplies of gas which is now taking a toll on the heavily-stressed economy.
Tymoshenko, who is receiving treatment for back trouble in a state-run clinic in the city of Kharkiv and was not present at the appeal hearing, denies betraying the national interest. She says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her for the presidency in February 2010.
Her prosecution, which has damaged Ukraine’s relations with the European Union and the United States, will be a major issue in legislative elections on October 28 when Yanukovich’s Party of the Regions will seek to keep its control of parliament.
When the appeal hearing resumed on Tuesday, state prosecutor Oksana Drogobytskaya said Tymoshenko was guilty of a crime which had had serious consequences.
“During the investigation ... the intentional nature of her actions had been established. Everything points to the fact that the actions of Tymoshenko were criminal,” she said. “The (gas) contract continues to inflict massive damage on Ukraine.”
Drogobytskaya said Tymoshenko had heaped personal abuse on the judge at her trial last year and she accused defence lawyers of trying to turn the appeal hearing into a “talk show”.
Tymoshenko’s lawyers last week argued in court that negotiating the gas agreement with Russia had been a political act which did not amount to criminal action.
Western governments have called for Tymoshenko’s release.
But, with the October election on the horizon, the Yanukovich leadership has shown no signs of freeing Tymoshenko and authorities are instead piling up other charges against her.
In a separate trial, which has been adjourned several times because of her back trouble, she is accused of embezzlement and tax evasion going back to alleged offences when she was in business in the 1990s.
Tymoshenko’s defence counsel, Serhiy Vlasenko, told reporters he expected the judges to announce their findings between September 11-13.
The political opposition prefers a quick clear-cut decision on Tymoshenko’s appeal well before the election in order to take it to the European Court of Human Rights, if need be.
Arseniy Yatseniuk, who has taken over at the helm of the united opposition in the absence of Tymoshenko, said that he feared a decision would be slow in coming.
“The process is complicated for us because we need to pass on the papers (from the appeal) to a fair court, the European Court of Human Rights. We know that there is a fair court in Europe,” Yatseniuk told reporters outside the Kiev court.
Tymoshenko was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests that derailed Yanukovich’s first bid for the presidency, but failed to produce a strong unified government.
Since Yanukovich defeated her in the election, some of her opposition allies have also faced corruption-related charges.
In the political fall-out from her prosecution, the European Union shelved agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine, while the United States has also criticised the court action against her as politically motivated.
Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Mark Heinrich