KIEV – The trial of Ukraine’s former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko was abruptly put on hold for two weeks yesterday after the United States and the European Union expressed fresh concern to President Viktor Yanukovich over her prosecution.
Ms Tymoshenko (50), a leading opposition figure, has been on trial since June for abuse of office over a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009.
She could face up to 10 years in jail if convicted.
The Yanukovich administration says the deal left Ukraine paying an exorbitant price for Russian gas supplies. Ms Tymoshenko who, denies the charge, says her trial is a political vendetta.
The US and EU members have largely taken her part. Some EU members say the trial could block an agreement on closer ties and easier trade with the former Soviet republic.
When the hearing reconvened yesterday in Kiev, the court judge announced an adjournment until September 27th “to guarantee the rights of the defence and provide extra time”.
In Brussels, a spokesman for EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said she and US secretary of state Hillary Clinton wrote to Yanukovich on Friday.
“It [the letter] was private in nature,” said spokesman Michael Mann.
A Brussels-based diplomat familiar with the text said: “I think it’s fair to say the letter expresses concern about the state of democracy in Ukraine and refers specifically to the arrest and detention of Tymoshenko, which is troubling.”
The source said the EU and the US had expressed their commitment to help Ukraine build a strong and prosperous democracy, in which the rule of law is paramount.
“It [the letter] talks about concerns about politically motivated trials in general and says that such actions can harm Yanukovich’s reputation,” the source said, adding that the letter urged him and his government to intervene with courts.
The adjournment yesterday by Judge Rodion Kireyev caught the prosecution and the defence team off balance.
Ms Tymoshenko herself had said she expected sentence to be passed this week.
“We were surprised. We were ready for today’s hearing,” prosecutor Liliya Frolova said.
Ms Tymoshenko, who narrowly lost to Mr Yanukovich in a bitter fight for the presidency in February 2010, said: “This shows that the case has unravelled.”
Mr Yanukovich himself left Kiev on a two-day visit to Turkmenistan and his media officials were not available for comment