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Ukraine lawmakers brawl; report finds Tymoshenko trial flawed

December 13, 2012|By Emily Alpert
  • Ukrainian opposition deputies wear sweaters featuring a portrait of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko during the opening ceremony of the newly elected parliament in Kiev. On the back, the sweaters say, "Free political prisoners!"
Ukrainian opposition deputies wear sweaters featuring a portrait of jailed… (Sergei Supinsky / AFP/Getty…)

The disputed trial of former Ukrainian leader Yulia Tymoshenko fell short of Western standards of fairness by violating her rights to a defense, a report commissioned by the government of President Viktor F. Yanukovich has found.

The newly released report by a U.S. law firm found that Tymoshenko had been barred from bringing forward some witnesses, undercutting her defense. Other witnesses were examined without a defense attorney in the courtroom, which “almost certainly would be viewed as a violation of the right to assistance of counsel” under Western standards, the attorneys wrote.

Tymoshenko is serving seven years behind bars after a Ukrainian court convicted her last year of exceeding her powers while inking a gas deal with Russia.

Western leaders contend the charges were pursued to sideline the charismatic “princess” of the Orange Revolution, a political rival to Yanukovich. Tymoshenko is seeking to appeal the conviction before the European Court of Human Rights.

The report by lawyers with the firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom was completed in September but not released publicly until Thursday, the same day that brawls broke out in the newly elected Ukrainian parliament between Yanukovich backers and opponents. The fisticuffs broke out as the legislature, which came to power in elections disputed by the opposition, chose two Yanukovich allies for top posts.

The Skadden Arps lawyers concluded that Tymoshenko was jailed during her trial without adequate justification, raising “concerns about whether she was inappropriately deprived of her liberty prior to her conviction.”

The report also provided political grist for her opponents. Although the law firm did not weigh in on whether the trial was politically motivated or whether the facts established that Tymoshenko was guilty under Ukrainian law, it said Tymoshenko had failed to produce evidence to overturn her conviction on those grounds, the heart of her allegations.

The report also said there was no evidence to show the judge was biased, as Tymoshenko had argued, and faulted her for insulting him, refusing to stand when addressing him and “making frivolous arguments,” behavior it said would be likely to put her in contempt of court in the West.

The Ukrainian Ministry of Justice praised the report in a public statement Thursday, trumpeting that it found Tymoshenko’s claims of political persecution “groundless.” It underplayed the critical findings and declared that steeper prices as a result of the debated gas deal made every Ukrainian a victim.

Though defenders of Tymoshenko celebrated some of the findings, they questioned the independence of the legal analysis because it was paid for by the government. A Skadden Arps representative said the U.S. law firm was not responding to media questions.

The chaos and political sparring Thursday occurred as the European Union warned in a resolution adopted Thursday that closer ties with Ukraine will only come “if the country demonstrates tangible progress towards democratic principles.” Plans to sign an association agreement with Ukraine were frozen last year after Tymoshenko was arrested.

The October elections, “a key test” of Ukrainian democracy, were a step backward marred by irregularities, the resolution said. It called on the government to allow the opposition “a level playing field” and “to free and rehabilitate politically persecuted opponents, including Yulia Tymoshenko” and others.

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