WATCH: Former Ukrainian Economy Minister Bohdan Danylyshyn talks to reporters as he leaves Czech custody in Prague on January 14.
By Gregory Feifer
PRAGUE -- The Czech Republic has granted political asylum to a former Ukrainian minister wanted at home on charges of abusing his office.
The ex-minister, Bohdan Danylyshyn, has been released from a Czech jail where he's been in custody since October on an extradition request his supporters say is politically motivated.
Czech police arrested Danylyshyn in October after the authorities in Kyiv accused him of squandering almost $2 million of public funds.
Danylyshyn, who served as economy minister from 2007 until last year, denies the accusations, which he says are politically motivated.
Outside prison on his release from custody, he thanked the Czech government for its decision.
"The Czech Republic, which is a part of the European Union, has confirmed the principles of international law and democracy," he said, "something I would like to see established in Ukraine in the near future."
The Interior Ministry, which announced Dalylyshyn's amnesty, gave no further details.
But Martina Lhotakova, spokeswoman for Prague's city court, said a state prosecutor must still independently decide to turn down the Ukrainian extradition request.
"Prosecutors must carry out a preliminary inquiry to determine the charges against Mr. Danylyshyn in Ukraine are politically motivated," she said.
Danylyshyn is one of several top officials who served under former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to have been arrested since her arch rival, pro-Moscow President Viktor Yanukovych, came to power last February. He said the charges that he squandered funds used for the Defense Ministry and Kyiv's main airport were absurd, adding that Yanukovych, who served as prime minister in 2007, oversaw much greater spending.
"No charges against the government in 2007 were filed," he said. "It was only after I published articles criticizing the current government's use of Russian credit that the accusations against me surfaced. They're made-up and political."
Danylyshyn said Ukrainian officials lured him to Prague from Germany in October, when he was undergoing medical treatment after stepping down last spring. He says he had been falsely promised he wouldn't be detained.
The Ukrainian government says the charges against him and other Tymoshenko allies are part of a campaign against deep-seated corruption in Ukraine. But Tymoshenko and her allies say Yanukovych is really using the drive as an excuse to jail her supporters.
Tymoshenko herself is under investigation on charges of misuse of funds from the sale of carbon-emission quotas under the Kyoto Protocol. She's been barred from leaving Kyiv. Her ally former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko is in jail on charges that he and his driver embezzled $45,000. Both deny the charges.
Paint It Black?
Ukraine's main opposition leader, the embattled Tymoshenko was an icon of the Orange Revolution in 2004, when street protests helped overturn Yanukovych's victory in a rigged presidential election. But he came back to power after winning another bitter election that repudiated the Orange Revolution and its pro-Western leaders.
In Kyiv, Tymoshenko allies say Danylyshyn's arrest was part of a political vendetta against them by a government that's reversing the Orange Revolution's democratic gains. Tymoshenko on January 13 accused Yanukovych of establishing "an authoritarian and dictatorial regime," her press service reported.
In a statement on her website, Tymoshenko thanked the Czech authorities and "European Union statesmen" for granting Danylyshyn asylum, saying they "helped Bohdan Danylyshyn defend his freedom and right to life and treated the situation in Ukraine with understanding."
EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele met Tymoshenko in Kyiv earlier this week, telling her the "selective use of justice against political opponents" is unacceptable, the Interfax news agency reported.
Human rights activists in Kyiv say besides marginalizing the opposition, the government has moved to control the judicial system and pressure journalists, who have complained of increasing censorship and physical attacks.