Friday, 15 July 2011

Ukraine state energy firm sues ex-PM Tymoshenko

Ukrainian state energy firm Naftogaz filed a lawsuit against former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Friday, seeking $190 million in damages and adding to a barrage of criminal charges against her.

The government of President Viktor Yanukovich accuses Tymoshenko, his fiercest political opponent, of abusing her power in brokering a 2009 gas supply deal between Naftogaz and Russia's Gazprom .

The government says the deal, which ended a row over prices that briefly disrupted Russian gas supplies to Europe, was a sell-out of national interests and state prosecutors have filed criminal charges against Tymoshenko who is now on trial.

Tymoshenko, who served twice as prime minister, has dismissed all charges against her as politically motivated and accused Yanukovich, who narrowly beat her in the 2010 presidential election, of cracking down on the opposition.

On Friday, Tymoshenko was indicted in absentia, having been expelled from the courtroom for refusing to stand up when addressing the judge. She says he is following orders from Yanukovich's office.

In addition to the criminal charges, a Naftogaz lawyer presented a civil lawsuit against Tymoshenko, seeking 1.516 billion hryvnias (about $190 million) in damages, her political party BYuT said in a statement.

BYuT said the sum represented Naftogaz's estimate of losses incurred from signing the gas agreements with Gazprom on Tymoshenko's orders.

Tymoshenko faces a number of other criminal charges related to her time as prime minister as well as earlier business activities. She has been accused, in particular, of misusing receipts from the sale of carbon emission permits.

Since Yanukovich came to power, several former members of Tymoshenko's cabinet have been prosecuted for alleged offences in office and at least one has fled Ukraine.

Western governments and, in particular, the European Union, with which Ukraine is negotiating an association agreement, have expressed concern over Tymoshenko's case and its potential political motivation.
Yanukovich has denied such motives saying his government is simply fighting corruption.

Tymoshenko, 50, won international fame as a leader of the 2004 "Orange Revolution" demonstrations that ultimately doomed Yanukovich's first bid to be president and produced a West-leaning government in a country widely seen as Russia's satellite. However, the "Orange" coalition quickly fell apart, allowing Yanukovich to win a rematch in early 2010, although Tymoshenko remains one of Ukraine's more popular politicians.

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