KIEV (Reuters) - Defense lawyers for jailed Ukrainian ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Thursday said there were no grounds for a criminal case against her as they launched a fresh appeal against her conviction last year for abuse of office.
The opposition leader’s jailing for seven years last October soured the former Soviet republic’s relations with the European Union, which sees her as a victim of selective justice by President Viktor Yanukovich, her political foe.
But, with a parliamentary election set for October 28, the Yanukovich leadership has shown no signs of releasing her and are instead piling up other charges against her.
In a separate trial, which has been adjourned several times because of back trouble which has confined her to hospital, she is accused of embezzlement and tax evasion going back to alleged offences when she was a businesswoman in the 1990s.
The conviction for abuse-of-office which she is appealing in the Kiev court relates to a 2009 gas deal with Russia which she brokered as prime minister.
Yanukovich’s government says the deal saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for gas imports and has become a mill-stone for the economy.
With Tymoshenko absent in a state-run hospital in the city of Kharkiv, the appeal hearing in Kiev has also been adjourned several times. But it went ahead on Thursday after her lawyers said Tymoshenko wanted proceedings to continue in her absence.
Laying out the basis for the appeal, her lawyer, Olexander Plakhotniuk, told the court: “I consider that the sentence of the court (last October) is unlawful. The court incorrectly applied criminal law and this is the basis for overturning the sentence.”
“I appeal to the court to overturn the judgment and halt the case against Yulia Tymoshenko on the grounds of a lack of criminal action,” he said.
Some parliamentary supporters of Tymoshenko enlivened the start of proceedings by trying to nail up on the courtroom’s wall a reproduction of a Renaissance painting depicting a corrupt judge being flayed alive, Interfax news agency said.
Judge Stanlislav Myshchenko warned them that they would be expelled if there were further attempts to disturb court proceedings. “You’re not in parliament now. If I have to speak to you again, it will be to send you out of the courtroom,” he said.
Tymoshenko has denied betraying the national interest and says she is the victim of a vendetta by Yanukovich who beat her for the presidency in a run-off in February 2010.
Tymoshenko was a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution protests which derailed Yanukovich’s first bid for the presidency, but failed to produce a strong unified government.
Since Yanukovich defeated her in the presidential election, some of her opposition allies have also faced corruption-related charges.
In the political fall-out from her prosecution, the European Union shelved key agreements on political association and free trade with Ukraine, while the United States has also criticized the court action against her as politically-motivated.
Separately, the Tymoshenko camp has also turned to the Strasbourg-based European Court for Human Rights.
Writing by Richard Balmforth; Editing by Jon Boyle