Ukraine's state prosecutor's office has launched a criminal case against former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko over a gas deal she reached with Russia in 2009, a senior prosecutor said on Monday.
Tymoshenko, who has already been accused in two other separate criminal cases since her rival, President Viktor Yanukovich, came to power, hit back immediately.
"They are launching new cases (against me) every day," she posted in a Twitter message.
"They are going to run out of criminal code articles soon."
First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin linked the case against Tymoshenko, who served twice as prime minister for relatively short periods, to a deal she reached in January 2009 with Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on supplies of Russian gas.
"A criminal case has been launched against the former prime minister over abuse of power linked to the signing of gas contracts in 2009," Kuzmin told reporters
That agreement ended a stand-off that had briefly disrupted Russian gas flows to Europe. It tied the price of gas from Russia's Gazprom to spot oil prices.
As a result, Ukraine's gas bill has since been steadily rising.
Yanukovich's government has urged Russia to review the pricing formula but talks have not been successful up to now.
Tymoshenko, who accused the Yanukovich camp of using fraud to secure his election in February 2010, remains his main political rival, although she has failed to marshal other opposition parties behind her.
She says the criminal cases opened against her are politically motivated and she and her allies, some of whom have been arrested, are being victimised by Yanukovich.
Tymoshenko has been previously accused of misusing 380 million euros from the sale of carbon emission rights under the Kyoto Protocol and spending state money on vehicles that were then used in her presidential campaign.
The new criminal case was announced on the eve of a visit by Putin, whose talks with Ukrainian officials on April 12 are likely to involve energy issues.
"There is an eye-catching link between the launch of the criminal case against Tymoshenko and Putin's visit tomorrow," said Volodymyr Fesenko, an analyst at Ukrainian think tank Penta.
"(Also) it looks like there is not enough evidence in the previous cases for anything other than character attacks on Tymoshenko so they are looking for more potential charges," said Fesenko. Former president Leonid Kuchma stole the spotlight from Tymoshenko last month when prosecutors charged him over the murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000.
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