Published 23 November 2011
A senior Ukrainian prosecutor in charge of the trial of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko left little doubt that an appeal will uphold her prison sentence for abuse of office and said further charges, including that of commissioning a murder, would be pressed against her.
Speaking to journalists during a rare visit to Brussels, Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin displayed fierce determination to convict Tymoshenko in crimes worthy of a spy novel.
Kuzmin, who was in Brussels at the invitation of MEP Hannes Swoboda (S&D, Austria), said his visit had a "colossal" importance for improving understanding between Ukraine and Europe.
He stressed that his office was willing to share information and to provide proof of "full transparency" regarding the Tymoshenko case.
The prosecutor first said that an appeals case set in December would rule on Tymoshenko's October sentence of seven years in prison for abuse of office in the negotiation of a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009, when she was prime minister. The appeals court could uphold the conviction, set Tymoshenko free or order another trial.
Tymoshenko's lawyers and supporters say her actions do not amount to a crime and contend that she is a target of political retribution by the ruling authorities.
Kuzmin sees the chances of Tymoshenko being freed were slim despite the politically sensitive timing of the appeal - the EU-Ukraine summit is due in Kyiv on 19 December and a long-awaited association agreement with the EU is on the agenda. Tymoshenko could also be facing additional charges around this time.
Asked by EurActiv, the prosecutor could not say if the appeal would be pronounced before or after the summit.
Kuzmin, who spoke in Russian, never used terms such as "alleged crimes" or "suspected author of crimes". Instead, he said he was convinced of Tymoshenko's culpability in other crimes.
Journalists treated as ignorant
Kuzmin insisted that Western journalists had no understanding of Tymoshenko's present conviction and described her role in the Russian gas deal at length.
As prime minister, Tymoshenko reportedly interfered in the talks between the Ukrainian state company Naftogaz and Russian export monopoly Gazprom in 2009, asking the then Naftogaz chief Oleg Dubina to sign an agreement for an "enormous" price of $450 (€334) per thousand cubic metres, while the normal price was $185 (€137). Dubina refused to sign, and then Tymoshenko started blackmailing him and threatening to fire him, Kuzim said.
Under pressure, Dubina agreed to sign under the condition that the government would meet and ask him formally to put his signature on the agreement. The government indeed met and all ministers voted against the deal.
However, according to the prosecutor, Tymoshenko presented Dubina with a falsified decree which said the government had agreed to buy the gas at the higher price. Tymoshenko fooled Dubina and the losses incurred amounted to $200 million (€148 million), he said.
In addition, the contract stipulated a fine worth 300% of the gas price if Ukraine refused the principle of "take or pay". The higher gas prices should have resulted in an increase of the transit fees Ukraine receives from Gazprom, but Tymoshenko blocked this, to the detriment of Ukraine, the prosecutor said. The resulting losses reached a further $200 million, he said.
Kuzmin claims the $400 million (€297 million) was exactly the sum which Tymoshenko embezzled years before from the Russian ministry of defence in conspiracy with the former prime minister of Ukraine, Pavlo Lazarenko, in the 1990s. Lazarenko was prime minister from 1996 to 1997 and was the mentor of Tymoshenko, president of the United Energy Systems of Ukraine at the time, a private company importing Russian gas to Ukraine. Lazarenko was convicted of money laundering and is serving a prison term in the United States.
Kuzmin said that Russia had put Tymoshenko on the Interpol list of suspected criminals, but after the gas deal, Moscow withdrew the arrest warrant. Officially the Russian defence ministry was never compensated for the $400 million, he added. Tymoshenko had no right to conduct the gas talks, given the conflict of interest of her previous dealings with Moscow, he said.
"Don't her previous dealings explain the crime for which she was convicted?" he said.
In addition, Kuzmin referred to the murder of MP Yefhen Shcherban, one of the richest people in Ukraine. Shcherban and his wife were killed at the Donetsk airport in 1996 by people dressed as police officers.
The Shcherbans' murderers have confessed having received $1 million (€742,394) from a bank account linked to Lazarenko and Tymoshenko, Kuzmin said.
Kuzmin was pressed by journalists to clarify why his office has not investigated those in power, many of whom live as millionaires despite their modest official income. He said there was no evidence of wrongdoing.