KIEV A Ukrainian court again postponed on Tuesday the start of the trial of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on tax evasion and embezzlement charges after she refused to attend the hearing on health grounds.
Tymoshenko, the fiercest foe of President Viktor Yanukovich, was sentenced to seven years in prison in October 2011 in a separate abuse-of-office trial but has been treated in a state-run hospital since last May for back trouble.
Her case has soured Ukraine's ties with the West, which saw it as an example of selective justice. The European Union has delayed the signing of landmark deals on free trade and political association with Kiev over the issue.
The new tax evasion trial, based on charges that date back to the 1990s when Tymoshenko ran a large gas trading business, has dragged on since last April with hearings being routinely delayed due to her absence.
A district court in the city of Kharkiv on Tuesday adjourned the hearings until March 22, the Interfax news agency said.
Tymoshenko's initial conviction was related to a 2009 gas supply deal with Russia which she brokered as prime minister. Yanukovich's government says the deal saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas for the next 10 years.
In what could become the third and the most serious case against her, Tymoshenko has been accused by state prosecutors of being behind a 1996 contract killing of a local businessman and parliament deputy.
Tymoshenko, 52, one of the leaders of the 2004 Orange revolution protests that derailed Yanukovich's first bid for the presidency, has dismissed all charges against her as a vendetta by the president.
In a statement published by her party Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) on Tuesday, she also accused Yanukovich and his allies of seeking revenge through attacking one of her allies in parliament.
Deputy Serhiy Vlasenko, who has actively campaigned in Tymoshenko's defense, could lose his seat in parliament following a complaint from a member of Yanukovich's Party of the Regions.
According to the complaint, Vlasenko has violated the law by failing to give up his lawyer's license as deputies are supposed to do. Vlasenko says he had filed the necessary papers in time.
"He is guilty of only one thing - defending me," Tymoshenko said.
Tymoshenko has served twice as prime minister since the Orange protests and ran against Yanukovich in the 2010 presidential election, losing in a close run-off.
After her initial conviction, the EU shelved planned deals with Ukraine on political association and free trade.
Brussels has said it could sign the agreements this year if Ukraine addresses the issue of selective justice along with other concerns.
(Reporting by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Jon Hemming)