Ukraine’s President Says He Has No Authority to Pardon Jailed Rival

MOSCOW, Russia -- Ukraine’s president, Viktor F. Yanukovich, said in an interview published this week that he wanted to pardon Yulia V. Tymoshenko, the country’s jailed former prime minister and his main political rival, but did not have the legal authority to do so, a claim Ms. Tymoshenko’s lawyer scoffed at on Friday.

Viktor Yanukovych claims he has no legal authority to pardon Yulia Tymoshenko.

“The simplest resolution is just to let Tymoshenko go,” Mr. Yanukovich said in the interview with Time magazine, published on Thursday.

“My reaction to that is this: I can’t act outside the framework of the law.”

Asked whether he wanted to release Ms. Tymoshenko, Mr. Yanukovich responded, “Of course I do.”

Ms. Tymoshenko, 51, has been in prison since October, when she was sentenced to seven years on charges of abuse of office while brokering a natural gas deal with Russia in 2009.

Supporters have said her actions did not amount to a crime and her real offense was insulting Mr. Yanukovich.

Mr. Yanukovich’s comments came during a highly publicized European boycott of soccer matches hosted in Ukraine for the European 2012 Championships.

Top government officials from several European countries, including France and Britain, have accused Mr. Yanukovich of using the courts to remove Ms. Tymoshenko from political competition.

Mr. Yanukovich’s statements were unusually sympathetic toward Ms. Tymoshenko, who he accused earlier this week of being involved in a 1996 contract killing.

“We do not have the goal of locking up our political opponents,” Mr. Yanukovich said.

“Let the opposition say the opposite.”

A member of Ms. Tymoshenko’s legal team, Mykola Tytarenko, said in a statement that Mr. Yanukovich was “disseminating lies” about the case.

“Yanukovich has enough power to release Yulia Tymoshenko in five minutes,” said Mr. Tytarenko.

“The only thing he needs is political will.”

In April, Ms. Tymoshenko’s camp released pictures showing the former prime minister with bruises she said were inflicted from a beating by prison guards.

She began a three-week hunger strike in protest.

International condemnation over Ms. Tymoshenko’s prosecution has also frozen the signing of a free trade and association agreement between Ukraine and the European Union, a stated goal of Mr. Yanukovich’s administration.

Speaking about the soccer boycott, Mr. Yanukovich said European countries had rushed to conclusions about Ms. Tymoshenko’s treatment in prison.

“This practice pushes me away from Europe,” he said.

Mr. Yanukovich said his rival’s case would have to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights before he could consider a pardon.

Mr. Yanukovich edged out Ms. Tymoshenko in a tightly contested 2010 election for president that split the country along geographic lines.

Ms. Tymoshenko was arrested in August of the following year and charged with abuse of office.

Source: The New York Times