Ukraine's ex-PM accused over Russia gas deals

11th April 2011, Comments 0 comments

Ukraine on Monday accused former premier and Orange Revolution leader Yulia Tymoshenko of costing her government almost $200 million by signing excessively expensive natural gas deals with Russia.

The accusation poses another challenge to the ousted pro-Western leader, who has become the focus of several probes since losing a bitter 2010 presidential election to her more Russia-friendly rival Vitkor Yanukovych.

State prosecutors said they were probing whether Tymoshenko had exceeded her authority while agreeing the overpriced deals with Russia's natural gas giant Gazprom in 2009.

She is accused of causing a loss to the former Soviet republic's budget of 1.5 billion hryvnia ($190 million), First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin said, refusing to rule out her eventual arrest.

"We have opened a criminal probe against the former prime minister for her abuse of power and authority during the signature of gas contracts in 2009," Interfax quoted Kuzmin as saying.

Tymoshenko has dismissed previous charges against her as a vendetta led by Yanukovych, her political nemesis who is also investigating other top officials in her ousted government, and adopted the same approach Monday.

The previous cases "have all gone wrong (for the prosecution), so now, every day, they are coming up with new ones," Tymoshenko said in a statement published on her website.

"Soon, they will run out of statutes in the criminal code," she defiantly added.

Known in public for her trademark blond braid and ice-queen demeanor, the charismatic former prime minister has already been accused in two other criminal probes.

Prosecutors have charged Tymoshenko with using state money that had been earmarked for environmental spending to pay off pension arrears.

She was also accused of purchasing ambulance cars at inflated prices and using them for her presidential election campaign.

Tymoshenko is now forbidden from leaving the capital Kiev and may be jailed for up to 10 years and forbidden from running for office for another three if convicted on the first set of counts.

But the latest set of charges appear to be the most serious, focusing on a hot-button issue that has caused controversy in Tymoshenko's career in the past.

Tymoshenko served as the head of Ukraine's main gas trading company in the mid-1990s, when she signed a series of murky contracts with Russia that briefly landed her behind bars.

Relations between Tymoshenko's government and Russia's gas monopoly have been under investigation in Ukraine since early 2009.

She signed the disputed gas contract with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow after Gazprom temporarily cut off gas shipments to Ukraine following Kiev's refusal to meet Moscow's higher price demands.

The cut-off also briefly affected major European countries.

Tymoshenko's decision to agree to Russia's demands in Moscow led to a restoration of the deliveries but also undermined her government's reputation, leading to immediate calls for a public probe.

Ukraine's National Security and Defence Council has already concluded that the price agreed with Gazprom by Tymoshenko was excessive and potentially damaging to the country's security.

© 2011 AFP

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