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October 12, 2011

Ukraine's Security Service Files New Charges Against Tymoshenko

Ukraine's state security service has filed new corruption charges against jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, accusing her of embezzling hundreds of millions of dollars in government funds.

The SBU security agency said Thursday Tymoshenko is suspected of misusing the government budget while serving as prime minister to pay off a $405 million debt owed to Russia by an energy company she once ran.

It announced the charges two days after a court sentenced Tymoshenko to seven years in prison for exceeding her powers as prime minister to sign a 2009 gas deal with Russia that her opponents say was overly beneficial to Moscow.

Her lawyers plan to appeal that verdict. She has denounced the case as a "political lynching" by the government of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a longtime rival who narrowly defeated her in last year's presidential election. Western powers criticized the sentencing of Tymoshenko and called for her release.

Yanukovych said Thursday the jailing of the former prime minister is hurting Ukraine's prospects for integrating with the European Union, and he is unhappy about that.

The Ukrainian president also said Tymoshenko's fate may be determined by proposed amendments to Ukraine's criminal code that would decriminalize her abuse-of-office offense. He said such amendments will be considered by an appeals court if they are approved before her appeal process begins.

Former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Steven Pifer told VOA's Ukrainian service the Tymoshenko case is damaging to Kyiv's negotiations with the European Union on an association and free trade agreement.

In its new corruption case against Tymoshenko, Ukraine's SBU accuses her of having a co-conspirator - former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, who served in the post from 1996 to 1997. Lazarenko is serving a prison term in the United States for money-laundering and other offenses.

The two are accused of embezzling government money to settle the debts of Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine to the Russian defense ministry. Tymoshenko ran the company in the 1990s, before serving two terms as prime minister in 2005 and from 2007 to 2010.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.