Ukraine Opposition Politician Jailed

KIEV, Ukraine -- A Kiev court has sentenced Yuriy Lutsenko, an opposition politician and former interior minister, to four years in prison for embezzlement and charges of abuse of office.

Yuriy Lutsenko

After the seven-year sentence handed to Yulia Tymoshenko, opposition leader in October, the ruling is expected to further strain Ukraine’s relations with the European Union and the US.

Since early last year, both Brussels and Washington have warned that closer relations were being jeopardised by alleged political persecutions and a broader rollback on democratic freedoms under Viktor Yanukovich, who narrowly beat Ms Tymoshenko in the 2010 presidential contest.

In a joint statement on Monday, Lady Ashton, the EU’s top foreign policy official, and Stefan Fuele, enlargement commissioner, said: “We are disappointed with the verdict against Mr Lutsenko, which signals the continuation of trials in Ukraine which do not respect international standards as regards fair, transparent and independent legal process.”

Like Ms Tymoshenko, Mr Lutsenko denies wrongdoing and describes the charges against him as a politically motivated attempt by Mr Yanukovich to sideline rivals.

Mr Yanukovich denies such accusations, insisting that his administration is waging a genuine crackdown on corruption and that the nation’s courts are independent.

The west has called upon Ukraine to release recently jailed opposition politicians before an October parliamentary election, describing the trials as unfair and examples of “selective justice”.

Weeks ago, Serhiy Demishkan, the son of an official in Mr Yanukovich’s government and political ally, was given a suspended sentence despite being found guilty of taking part in a brutal murder.

The crimes Mr Lutsenko was found guilty of involve misuse of about $100,000, in part by allegedly awarding favours to subordinates while he served as interior minister from 2007 to 2009.

In a statement made before the verdict on Mr Lutsenko, the Danish Helsinki Committee for Human Rights said: “Whatever sentence will be passed in the Lutsenko case it is not the result of a fair trial in a legal system respecting the rule of law and basic human rights principles.”

The sentencing of Mr Lutsenko, 47, and Ms Tymoshenko, 51, sidelines two of the three main leaders of Ukraine’s Orange revolution, in 2004.

Both played a big role then in rallying protesters against election fraud as the nation’s supreme court reversed an allegedly fraud-marred vote count, in turn stripping Mr Yanukovich of the presidency.

Back then, the pro-western Viktor Yushchenko won a repeat vote, but had a bitter falling out with Ms Tymoshenko and Mr Lutsenko during his tenure as president.

He has not been a suspect in any investigations under Mr Yanukovich’s rule.

Source: FT