Ukraine court postpones Tymoshenko appeal hearing

KIEV Tue Jun 26, 2012 7:30am EDT

1 of 9. Opposition supporters hold placards displaying jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko during a rally near the court in Kiev, June 26, 2012. A Ukrainian court on Tuesday adjourned hearings to July 12 into former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko's appeal against the verdict and seven-year prison sentence handed down to her last October on abuse-of-office charges.

Credit: Reuters/Gleb Garanich

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KIEV (Reuters) - A Ukrainian court on Tuesday delayed an appeal by jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko against her conviction for abuse of power, postponing a decision that could embarrass Ukraine while it stages the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.

The high court in Kiev supported a call by state prosecutors for the hearing to be postponed pending a medical examination of Tymoshenko to establish whether she was fit to attend proceedings. It fixed the next hearing for July 12.

A similar ruling was made by a court in Kharkiv on Monday relating to a second trial of Tymoshenko for alleged tax evasion. That court adjourned until July 10.

The outcome of legal proceedings against Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and heroine of the 2004-5 "Orange Revolution" street protests in Ukraine, could shape the former Soviet republic's relations with the European Union for years.

Both court rulings mean that authorities have effectively avoided sensitive hearings that risk generating further bad publicity for the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovich while the high-profile European soccer championship is going on.

Ukraine is co-host of the Euro 2012 tournament with Poland, with the final due to take place in Kiev on July 1.

Tymoshenko, who could not attend the Kiev hearing because she is receiving medical treatment for back trouble, is appealing against conviction and a seven-year jail sentence imposed last year for alleged abuse of power.

The charge relates to a 2009 gas deal with Russia which she brokered as prime minister and which Yanukovich's government says saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas imports.

The trial and her conviction have caused outrage among Western governments which say it smacks of "selective justice" and have derailed Ukraine's relations with the EU.

The charismatic 51-year-old politician says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich, her fierce political foe who narrowly beat her for the presidency in February 2010.

The 27-member EU has shelved agreements on free trade and political association with Ukraine and a number of European politicians have boycotted Euro 2012 matches played there.

So far, pressure from the EU has had no effect.

Yanukovich has said he will not intervene before all the trials and appeals are over. Ukrainian prosecutors, meanwhile, have heaped fresh charges on Tymoshenko, saying they suspect her of involvement in a 1996 contract killing.

DEFENCE NOT OPTIMISTIC

Tymoshenko's legal counsel showed little optimism ahead of Tuesday's hearing.

"There can be no justice for Tymoshenko, so all the hopes of Tymoshenko's defense lie beyond Ukraine's borders," said her lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko, meaning only Western pressure could bring about her release.

After the adjournment decision, Vlasenko said, "The main aim of all this is to exclude Tymoshenko from Ukraine's political life and not allow her to be elected at the (October) 2012 parliamentary elections."

On Monday a court in the city of Kharkiv, where Tymoshenko is serving her sentence, adjourned her trial on separate charges of tax evasion and attempted embezzlement until July 10 at the request of state prosecutors.

That court similarly ordered a medical examination of Tymoshenko to establish her physical fitness to attend proceedings.

Ukraine's co-hosting of the Euro 2012 soccer championship has diverted attention from internal problems. But despite being locked up, Tymoshenko has made her presence felt at Euro 2012 matches with some fans wearing "Free Yulia" T-shirts.

Because of the boycott by some foreign leaders, Yanukovich has mostly shared his VIP box at matches with political allies, local government officials and representatives of European soccer body UEFA.

Britain and France were among those EU governments which declined to send ministers to attend Euro matches in Ukraine in which their national teams were competing.

(Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Louise Ireland)

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