April 27, 2011 / 5:14 AM / 9 years ago

Ukrainian ex-PM sues gas company, businessman in US court

NEW YORK, April 27 (Reuters) - The former prime minister of Ukraine is suing a natural gas company businessman and close associate of the current president in U.S. court, alleging fraud, human rights violations and racketeering.

According to court papers filed on Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan, Yulia Tymoshenko, who served as prime minster in 2005 and again from 2007 to 2010, brought suit against businessman Dmytro Firtash and Swiss-based RosUkrEnergo AG (RUE) — a company jointly owned by Russian energy giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM) and Firtash.

Tymoshenko accused the defendants, who include 100 unnamed “John Doe” individuals and companies, of defrauding Ukraine’s citizenry by manipulating an arbitration court ruling, “undermining the rule of law in Ukraine.”

The allegations stem from an international arbitration court ruling in Stockholm last year that ordered Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz to pay RUE 11 billion cubic meters of gas to compensate for fuel it had “expropriated” plus 1.1 billion bcm as a penalty, according to an RUE shareholder.

Naftogaz and Gazprom said in November they had agreed to a settlement under which Naftogaz would return 12.1 bcm of gas — worth almost $3 billion — to RUE, while RUE would redeem $1.7 billion of debt to Naftogaz and $810 million to Gazprom.

According to the suit, the Stockholm ruling was “widely perceived as a means of generating huge sums of cash with which Firtash and his associates could continue to illegally fund the pervasive” corruption that it said marks every level of government, “while at the same time suppressing political dissent through intimidation, racketeering and other violations of fundamental human and political rights.”

The suit, a class action on behalf of the Ukrainian people, was filed in U.S. federal court under the Alien Torts Statute, which accommodates actions in U.S. courts to uphold international law, as well as the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO).

Tymoshenko was joined in the suit by 10 unnamed John Does who it alleged “have all been subjected to politically motivated investigations and selective prosecutions” by Ukraine’s current leaders.

Ukraine’s state prosecutor’s office earlier this month launched a criminal case against Tymoshenko over a gas deal she reached with Russia in 2009. Tymoshenko was already accused in two other separate criminal cases since her rival, President Viktor Yanukovich, came to power.

According to the suit, which seeks unspecified damages and alleges that Firtash is a close associate of Yanukovich, the Yanukovich administration has “launched a wave of arrests and investigations aimed at ... Tymoshenko and her political allies in ... a concerted campaign to intimidate, suppress and ultimately eliminate any and all political opposition in Ukraine.” (Reporting by Chris Michaud; editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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