Ukrainian opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has been charged with abuse of power stemming from actions during her 2007-10 term as prime minister.
Her spokeswoman made the announcement after Tymoshenko appeared with her lawyer before authorities for questioning on December 20.
Tymoshenko told reporters outside the prosecutor's office that she had been ordered to remain in Kyiv during the investigation and read the charges aloud: "Tymoshenko (Yulia V.), acting intentionally, with personal interest, unilaterally decided to use part of the funds received from the sale of greenhouse-gas quotas and had specific allotment, in order to cover Ukraine's state budget expenditures for the payment of pensions."
Prosecutors have accused Tymoshenko of using money from the sale of carbon emissions to make up a shortfall in state pension payments.
Under the Kyoto Protocol's global warming protocol, businesses buy credits from the government in exchange for being allowed to emit carbon dioxide. The money earned by governments through the sale of the credits is meant to be used toward efforts to further combat emissions.
Auditors hired by President Viktor Yanukovych's government published a report in October that concluded Tymoshenko had misused the carbon-trade funds.
Tymoshenko narrowly lost a presidential election in February to Yanukovych and has said repeatedly that the accusations against her are politically motivated.
Emerging from the prosecutor's office, she had a message for the president: "I would like to address Victor Yanukovych. Neither myself, nor people that are standing here to support me, nor millions of Ukrainians, are afraid. You should be afraid. And because of this fear you beat people, humiliate, kill, send to prison. But this will not save you."
WATCH: Tymoshenko supporters rally outside the Prosecutor-General's Office (in Ukrainian).
Tymoshenko said the money allotted for the Kyoto Protocol "was not being spent and that her government had "used funds from a single line item of the budget...that had no purpose or designation." She said she told the investigators that the money in question -- 320 million euros ($425 million) -- was not misappropriated and was intact.
On her Batkivshchyna (Fatherland) party website, Tymoshenko posted a statement that said: "This looks really absurd. This is how the president of Ukraine is getting rid of his main competitor."
Of the charges against her, she said, "I paid pensions to people, but this is not a crime under Ukrainian law."
A Political Ploy?
The charges against Tymoshenko are just the latest in a string of investigations launched against former members of her government.
Former Environment Minister Heorhiy Filipchuk is also being investigated on charges related to the use of money from the carbon emission fund, former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko was charged on December 13 with the same crime, and former Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshyn has been arrested and accused of squandering nearly $2 million of public funds.
Political analyst Yuriy Yakymenko sees the arrests as a partly a reflection of Yanukovych's desire to distract the public from harsh economic austerity measures his government has implemented.
"The government is facing new, unpopular decisions regarding pension reform and labor codes. At the same time, it is [losing] support, people's dissatisfaction is growing," Yakymenko says. "Thus there is a need to divert attention to the former political team and its leadership as the main culprits of what is happening today."
But analyst Mykhaylo Pohrebinskyy said the public is unlikely to see the investigations of Tymoshenko and her former deputies as anything less than politically motivated.
"The current government is trying to discredit the top opposition leader, despite the fact that lately she has been losing support," Pohrebinskyy says. "It is impossible that Ukrainians will be convinced that this is not a political persecution. However, that's what the authorities are doing. It is likely that everything will end in conditional punishment," he said.
Pohrebinskyy says that if the government jails Tymoshenko, it will have handed her a golden opportunity to win back support and stage a triumphant return to the political stage.
In comments posted on her website, Tymoshenko signaled that the prospect of jail doesn't frighten her. "I will never leave, hide in hospital, or go abroad, like Yanukovych and his supporters did in 2005, when they scattered all across the world," she wrote, in a reference to the days following the Orange Revolution that vilified Yanukovych and his pro-Russian position. "I will remain in Ukraine and show up each time I am called in for questioning."
She added, "I am not afraid of anything."
written by Heather Maher with additional reporting by Maryana Drach of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service