KIEV (Reuters) - The chief lawyer for imprisoned Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko is being questioned by state prosecutors on suspicion of beating his former wife and he could face arrest, the prosecutor’s office said on Monday.
The action against Serhiy Vlasenko, who has become a regular conduit of information about Tymoshenko after visits to her in hospital under prison guard, could complicate delicate international negotiations for her release.
Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence for abuse of office but the European Union views her trial and sentence as a case of selective justice by the ex-Soviet republic and wants her release before signing a landmark free trade agreement with Ukraine on November 28.
EU negotiators are due in Kiev from Tuesday in a further round of talks aimed at securing her release to Germany for medical treatment for back pains.
“He (Vlasenko) is suspected of carrying out physical harm to his former wife and also of carrying out acts of violence in his relations with her. A formal questioning is taking place,” the prosecutor’s press service said.
There was a possibility that Vlasenko could be formally arrested, the spokeswoman said.
Vlasenko appeared to suggest that he was being targeted because he was one of the main actors in the defense of Tymoshenko, the chief political opponent of President Viktor Yanukovich.
“Repression is increasing,” he said in a text message to Reuters. Earlier he confirmed simply that he was at the prosecutor’s office.
The European Union has warned Yanukovich it will not sign the association deal with Ukraine, which will mark a historic shift away from the patronage of its old Soviet master Russia, unless Tymoshenko is freed.
The Ukrainian parliament is due on Wednesday to look again at draft legislation that would permit her to travel to Germany for medical treatment. But pro-Yanukovich deputies, who dominate in the assembly, have signaled they are not happy about it.
Russia is angry over Ukraine’s move out of the post-Soviet fold and has threatened possible trade retaliation. Yanukovich met Russian President Vladimir Putin at the weekend to discuss bilateral trade, but there were no details of the meeting.
Reporting by Pavel Polityuk; Writing By Richard Balmforth; Editing by Janet Lawrence