Ukraine Judge Rules Ex-PM Tymoshenko Exceeded Powers

KIEV, Ukraine -- The courtroom was barely 10 metres (33 feet) by six (20 feet). The back half was a press pen, with close to 100 reporters and photographers, and TV cameramen standing on benches.

Yulia Tymoshenko's daughter and husband sat beside her in court.

Judge Rodion Kireyev - just 31 years old - stood while he read his decision, taking a short break every half-hour.

Behind him on the wall was a Ukrainian crest; and, on a pole reaching to the ceiling, a Ukrainian flag.

In some of the breaks Yulia Tymoshenko addressed the media, asking the public not to be afraid of the Viktor Yanukovych "regime," comparing it to the worst of the Stalin years.

She was accompanied in court by her husband Olexandr Tymoshenko and daughter Evgenia Carr.

Everyone else in court was standing, but Yulia Tymoshenko, her husband and daughter remained seated.

She and Evgenia sat close together, almost cheek-to-cheek, as one of the most controversial court cases of recent years entered its final moments.

The decision that could end her political career, and even land her in prison for up to seven years, was imminent.

A judge has ruled that former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko criminally exceeded her powers when she signed a gas deal with Russia in 2009.

The verdict is still being read but its meaning is not fully clear. Prosecutors are seeking a seven-year jail sentence.

Mrs Tymoshenko said the charges against her were politically motivated and vowed to fight for Ukrainian democracy "till her last breath".

Riot police are outside the court as supporters and opponents gather.

There have been minor scuffles but no major clashes, the AFP news agency reports from the scene.

The US and the EU have condemned the charges against Mrs Tymoshenko and some of her allies as selective prosecution of political opponents.

European officials have suggested that if Mrs Tymoshenko were jailed - especially if that prevented her from contesting next year's parliamentary election - it would be a serious blow to the country's hopes of integration with the European Union.

Some analysts say this external pressure may influence the verdict.

However, former president and one-time ally Viktor Yushchenko and others have testified against her.

Russia pipes gas to western Europe across Ukrainian territory and relations between the two ex-Soviet states have long been dogged by disputes over transit fees and unpaid bills.

'Not very optimistic'

The former Orange Revolution leader is accused of exceeding her authority while negotiating the gas agreement with Russia in 2009, which critics say was to Ukraine's disadvantage.

"In January 2009, Tymoshenko... exercising the duties of prime minister... used her powers for criminal ends and, acting deliberately, carried out actions... which led to serious consequences," Judge Kireyev said.

As a result of ordering state gas company Naftohaz to sign an import contract with Russia in 2009 she inflicted damages of 1.5bn hrivna ($186m) on the company, he added.

As the verdict was read out over several hours, Mrs Tymoshenko stared at her iPad, apparently not listening to the judge, occasionally exchanging whispers with her daughter, Evgenia Carr.

Mrs Tymoshenko - who has been in custody for contempt of court since 5 August - denies any wrongdoing.

Arriving at Pechersky court in the capital, Kiev, before the verdict, Mrs Tymoshenko said: "You know very well that the sentence is not being pronounced by judge [Rodion] Kireyev but by President [Viktor] Yanukovych.

"Whatever the sentence pronounced, my struggle will continue. This sentence, written by Yanukovych, will not change anything in my life or in my struggle."

Judge Kireyev retired to consider the verdict in late September after a three-month trial.

Delivering his verdict, the judge said Mrs Tymoshenko had exceeded her powers in brokering the gas deal, but did not say if this meant she was guilty or whether she would be sentenced.

He is continuing with his summing up, which correspondents say could take some hours.

'Honest name'

During a break in the proceedings, Mrs Tymoshenko made a statement to journalists, saying human rights organisation the Helsinki Group had declared the charges politically motivated.

She said that "no-one can besmirch my honest name".

She compared the state of the country to the Soviet Union in 1937, the height of Stalinist repression.

Mrs Tymoshenko was the heroine of the Western-leaning Orange Revolution - the sudden street protests that erupted after a fraudulent presidential election in 2004 - and was made prime minister shortly afterwards.

But the next few years saw Ukraine's revolution stagnate, and were marred by bickering between Mrs Tymoshenko and her Orange allies, which paralysed the country just as it was facing a deep economic crisis.

In 2010 the revolution was definitively reversed, when Mr Yanukovych was elected president, and Mrs Tymoshenko forced into opposition.

Source: BBC News