KHARKIV, Ukraine (Reuters) - A Ukrainian court on Monday adjourned the high-profile tax evasion trial of former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko until mid-July, a move that will spare Kiev further negative publicity during the Euro 2012 soccer tournament.
Western outrage over Tymoshenko’s prosecution - which she says is a politically-motivated witch hunt - has already prompted some European politicians to boycott matches at the football championship, which Ukraine is co-hosting with Poland.
In a hearing in the city of Kharkiv, Judge Kostyantyn Sadovsky adjourned further hearings into the tax evasion case until July 10 at the request of state prosecutors, ordering a medical examination of Tymoshenko, 51, in order to establish whether she is fit to attend her own trial.
Receiving treatment for back trouble in a state-run hospital in the same city, the co-leader of the country’s 2004 Orange Revolution has said she is not well enough to be present.
The decision by some politicians to boycott the Ukrainian segment of the football tournament was prompted by a Kiev court, which in October sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in jail for abusing her powers in 2009 when prime minister, a charge she denied. That conviction - an unexpectedly harsh punishment - triggered international condemnation.
The latest case involves tax evasion and embezzlement charges dating back to the 1990s.
According to an official list of charges published in the Kommersant Ukraine newspaper on Monday, Tymoshenko’s now-defunct gas trading company caused damages equivalent to about $4 million to the state, while she personally evaded paying $85,000 in taxes. Twice prime minister, Tymoshenko denies wrongdoing.
Tymoshenko was not present at the brief hearing on Monday, but dozens of her supporters rallied outside the building chanting “Free Yulia!”.
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, the man she accuses of orchestrating her persecution in revenge for her political opposition to him, has repeatedly said he hopes the Euro 2012 football tournament will help boost Ukraine’s international image and attract inward investment.
Any fresh legal moves against Tymoshenko during the event would have been certain to attract unwanted publicity and analysts say the court is reluctant to rule until after the championship finishes on July 1 when the country is out of the media spotlight.
The European Union has already shelved landmark agreements on free trade and political association with the former Soviet republic in response to Tymoshenko’s prison sentence.
Brussels sees the case as an example of selective justice and has urged her release, but Ukrainian prosecutors have instead heaped more charges on Tymoshenko.
Tymoshenko helped lead the 2004 Orange Revolution protests which derailed Yanukovich’s first bid for the presidency, but narrowly lost the 2010 presidential election to him.
She and a number of her opposition allies have since faced corruption-related charges which Tymoshenko has dismissed as politically revenge.
Separately, hearings in her appeal against the initial abuse-of-office conviction will resume on Tuesday in Kiev.
Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Andrew Osborn