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Ukraine: Long Prison Sentence for a Former Prime Minister

(Oct. 19, 2011) On October 11, 2011, a district court in the Ukrainian capital city of Kyiv sentenced former Prime Minister of Ukraine Yulia Timoshenko – who had been a leader of the Ukrainian opposition during the “Orange Revolution” of 2004-2005 against allegedly rigged elections – to a seven-year term of imprisonment. She was accused of exceeding her power while serving as the head of the country's government in 2009-2010; gas price negotiations with Russia in 2009 allegedly resulted in a deal under which Ukraine was supposed to pay a higher price for Russian gas. Timoshenko was found guilty of damaging the national interest and the national economy and was ordered to pay 1.5 billion Ukrainian Hryvnas (about US$180 million) to compensate for the losses suffered by the Ukrainian government oil and gas monopoly Naftogaz. (Timoshenko Sentenced to Seven-Year Imprisonment, ITAR-TASS (Oct. 11, 2011).) The investigation and trial had continued forseven months, and Timoshenko has spent the last two of them in jail. This imprisonment period will be considered in calculating the length of her sentence.

The district court's verdict is not yet final; it will become effective on October 27, 2011, if Timoshenko fails to appeal it. After the verdict was announced, Timoshenko stated that she will appeal the decision in all possible courts, including domestic courts and the European Court of Human Rights. Timoshenko has 15 days to appeal to the next higher court, which in this case is the Appellate Court of Kyiv. If her appeal does not succeed there, Timoshenko has one month to file a cassation against the ruling of the appellate court with the Highest Specialized Court of Ukraine for Criminal and Civil Matters, which serves as the highest judicial authority of Ukraine for this type of case. (Criminal Procedural Code of Ukraine (as amended) [in Ukrainian], art. 385, available at the Verkhovna Rada website.

Theoretically, a defendant can request that an unfavorable decision of the Highest Specialized Court of Ukraine be substantively reviewed by the Supreme Court of Ukraine. However, article 400-12 of the Ukrainian Criminal Procedural Code provides for only very limited grounds on which to lodge such a request for review. (Id.)

Despite the fact that the court ruling did not become effective, it immediately excludes Timoshenko from politics for several years. Under the Ukrainian Law on State Service in Ukraine(VVR 1993, No. 52), on Parliamentary Elections (VVR 2004, No. 27-28), and on Election of the President of Ukraine (VVR 1999, No. 14) [all three texts in Ukrainian],only those who have no outstanding criminal record can run for a public office and serve in the government. Only if the appeals court declares Timoshenko not guilty or if the acts for which she was convicted are decriminalized would she be able to run in the next parliamentary elections, which are scheduled for October 28, 2012. Such an opportunity was sought by her supporters in the Verkhovna Rada (Ukrainian parliament), who proposed amendments to the Criminal Code of Ukraine in order to free Timoshenko. (For information in Ukrainian on the legislation, see Verkhovna Rada official website (last visited Oct. 17, 2011).)

According to legal observers, the trial was conducted with numerous procedural violations. They conclude that it was a political trial and that Timoshenko was prosecuted for her political activities and opposition to the current leadership. (Neil Buckley & Roman Oleynichuk, Kiev Ruling Deals Blow to Hope for Democracy, FINANCIAL TIMES Oct. 12, 2011, at 3.) A similar position was expressed in a joint statement issued by U.S. Senators John McCain and Joe Lieberman, who said that the court ruling is “the product of a politically-motivated trial that did not meet international standards, aimed at silencing a member of the opposition.” (Press Release, Statement by Senators McCain and Lieberman on the Sentencing of Yulia Timoshenko (Oct. 11, 2011).)

On October 17, 2011, the Ukrainian Security Service started formal proceedings in another case initiated against Timoshenko. In this new case she is accused of covering debts of a private company with government budget funds in an amount of more than US$400 million, and if found guilty she can be sentenced to another 12 years of imprisonment. (Timoshenko Names Attorneys for Her New Case [in Ukrainian], NEWSRU.UA (Oct. 17, 2011).)

Prepared by Inna Grebeniuk, an Intern at the Law Library of Congress, under the guidance of Peter Roudik, Director of Legal Research. Ms. Grebeniuk is a participant in the Legislative Fellows Program.