Ukraine Parliament Votes To End Jail For Economic Crime

KIEV, Ukraine -- Parliament on Thursday approved in the first reading a bill that replaces jail sentences with penalties for certain economic crimes, but falls short of amendments that could lead to the release of opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn.

The bill, submitted by President Viktor Yanukovych, may still be amended later this month to include the Tymoshenko article, Parliamentary Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn said.

“As we prepare for the second reading, I am convinced that there will be proposals by the opposition to submit the amendments,” Lytvyn said in an interview with TVi late Thursday.

“There are absolutely no restrictions for submitting such an amendment.”

The Tymoshenko trial – and sentencing - is watched closely in Ukraine and in the European Union because if things go wrong it may potentially derail important trade and political deals between the two.

European leaders told Yanukovych repeatedly over the past several weeks that sentencing Tymoshenko to jail would be an extremely bad scenario that may hurt Ukraine’s European aspirations.

European leaders expressed concerns that the trial looks like politically motivated persecution of Yanukovych’s political opponents, and that Tymoshenko must be allowed to run for a seat in Parliament.

Yanukovych in talks with the European leader has apparently promised to take measures to make sure that Tymoshenko is released soon.

Ukraine has been seeking to sign a free trade and political association deals with the EU before the end of the year, and people familiar with the talks said that most of issues have been solved, except for the Tymoshenko trial.

A pro-government lawmaker, familiar with the thinking at the Yanukovych administration, said the plan is to sentence Tymoshenko and then to release her after the legislation is approved shortly before Yanukovych goes on a trip to Brussels on October 20.

The judge is expected to start delivering Tymoshenko verdict on October 11.

Svyatolsav Piskun, a former prosecutor general and a senior member of Yanukovych’s Regions Party group in Parliament, said pro-government lawmakers would support such amendment.

“If the amendment emerges in the bill during the second reading, if it is going to be in the bill, we will vote for it,” Piskun told Channel 5.

Yanukovych’s bill was approved on Thursday by 278 lawmakers in the 450-seat Parliament, an indication that Yanukovych commands a strong majority in Parliament.

At least two bills submitted by opposition lawmakers and containing an article allowing releasing Tymoshenko had been rejected by Parliament on Wednesday.

Arseniy Yatseniuk, the leader of the opposition Front of Changes group and a sponsor of one of the opposition’s bills, said lawmakers may resort to blocking the work of Parliament if the measure is not supported.

Source: Ukrainian Journal