Last updated: December 13, 2012 7:34 pm

US lawyers back Kiev on Tymoshenko trial

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The 2011 trial of Yulia Tymoshenko, the Ukrainian opposition leader, had notable flaws but was not politically motivated, a prominent New York law firm hired by the Kiev government has concluded.

A report released on Thursday by Ukraine’s justice ministry points to a refusal by courts to hear key witnesses called by defence lawyers and unfair imprisonment during the appeals process.

But the former prime minister “has not provided clear and specific evidence of political motivation that would be sufficient . . . under American standards . . . to overturn” her seven-year jail sentence on abuse-of-office charges, concludes the report by Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom.

The 300-page report challenges the position of the EU leadership, which has postponed signing free trade and association agreements with Kiev amid concerns that Ms Tymoshenko’s jailing was politically motivated and part of a broader rollback of democracy under President Viktor Yanukovich.

Commenting on the report, the Brussels-based European Centre for a Modern Ukraine said it was “very critical on how the trial was conducted, due to its non-compliance with international standards, but supports the position of the Ukrainian government in the case itself”.

Following a foreign ministers’ meeting on Monday, EU leaders said the 27-nation union remained committed to forging closer ties if Kiev demonstrated progress on democracy and reforms. “[The EU] expects the authorities to address the cases of politically motivated convictions without delay as well as to take further steps to reform the judiciary to prevent any recurrence,” said the ministers.

The US law firm’s findings were released amid an escalating domestic political standoff and follow an October 28 parliamentary election that was criticised by the west as a setback for democracy.

On Thursday, a second day of brawls erupted between opposition and pro-presidential lawmakers in Ukraine’s newly elected parliament. Invigorated opposition lawmakers demonstrated their ability to block parliament physically when their demands are ignored.

Mr Yanukovich’s Party of Regions, backed by independents and Communists, mustered a majority of votes to uphold Mykola Azarov as prime minister for a second term. But it took two days to get the vote past a revitalised opposition. Alleging that pro-presidential lawmakers violated constitutional and parliamentary norms by voting on behalf of absent colleagues, opposition lawmakers stormed the podium, preventing the vote from taking place.

Joining Ms Tymoshenko’s Fatherland grouping in the opposition are two newcomers – the far-right Svoboda and the Udar party of the WBC heavyweight boxing champion Vitali Klitschko.

On Wednesday, members of Svoboda briefly clashed with parliament security guards after sawing down part of a fence surrounding the legislature. They explained their action as an attempt to break down barriers by giving voters in the corruption-plagued country more oversight over elected officials.

The intensity of the clashes between pro-presidential and opposition lawmakers suggests that Mr Yanukovich’s ruling party may find it harder to rush through legislation than it did before. This could complicate tough talks on financial aid with the International Monetary Fund as the country teeters on the verge of recession.

Visiting Kiev on Thursday, Timothy Ash, head of emerging market research at Standard Bank, said: “Things feel even worse than I thought. . . With a fractured parliament, I think it’s going to be more difficult for the government to do a deal with the IMF than I originally expected.”

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