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Ukraine's Lutsenko jailed for 4 years (updated)

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Feb. 27, 2012, 3:13 p.m. | Politics — by Reuters

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A former Ukrainian interior minister and close ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to fours year in jail on Monday for embezzlement and abuse of office. Yuri Lutsenko, 47, a member of opposition party Narodna Samooborona (People's Self-defence), has denied the charges as politically motivated and in earlier comments to journalists made it clear that he expected to be jailed.

"Everybody understands that this is a political trial, not a judicial one," Lutsenko told reporters from a metal cage in the courtroom, as judge Serhiy Vovk read out the verdict.

The European Union and the United States have condemned this trial and the case targeting Tymoshenko as politically motivated proceedings and examples of selective justice.

Lutsenko's alleged offences include illegally granting an apartment to his lawyer and financial irregularities relating to celebrations marking National Police Day.

Tymoshenko, a former prime minister in whose government Lutsenko had served, was also convicted for abuse of office last October and sentenced to seven years in prison in a case that has damaged Ukraine's ties with the West.

Brussels has put off the signing of an association agreement and a free trade deal with Ukraine over the issue, urging Kyiv to free Tymoshenko and allow her to compete in a parliamentary election in October.

Lutsenko's sentencing, however, suggested Tymoshenko was unlikely to go free any time soon.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich himself said last week he could step in only once Tymoshenko goes through all the trial and appeal hearings and asks him to pardon her. But Tymoshenko will never seek a pardon, according to her lawyers.

The 51-year-old Tymoshenko, a charismatic politician and a fiery speaker, helped lead the 2004 Orange Revolution street protests that thwarted a first bid for the presidency by Yanukovich, and went on to serve two terms as prime minister.

But after Yanukovich made a comeback and beat her in an election for the presidency in February 2010, criminal proceedings were brought against her and other members of the opposition.

Tymoshenko was found guilty of illegally forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia which Yanukovich's government says has saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for vital fuel supplies.

A former acting defence minister who served under Tymoshenko, Valery Ivashchenko, has also been in detention since August 2010, on charges of illegally selling a ship-repair factory in Crimea.

Tymoshenko's husband, Olexander, and another ally, former Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshin, have both fled to the Czech Republic where they have been granted asylum. Other Tymoshenko supporters inside Ukraine remain vocal.
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