Ukraine says it has opened a new criminal case against jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for suspected embezzlement when she was heading a utility firm in the 1990s.
The head of investigations at Ukraine's SBU state security service, Ivan Derevyanko, said Tymoshenko was accused of reassigning a debt of some $405 million -- owed by her company to the Russian Defense Ministry -- to the Ukrainian state budget.
"There is an ongoing pretrial investigation so I cannot disclose any of the circumstances, particularly those related to the evidence in this criminal case," Derevyannko said. "But I can say that the investigation has gathered enough evidence to bring these charges against Tymoshenko."
Derevyanko described Tymoshenko as the "president and de facto owner" of the utility, United Energy Systems of Ukraine.
He told reporters in Kyiv that a criminal probe was also opened against Pavlo Lazarenko, who was prime minister in the late 1990s. He is currently in prison in the United States for graft and embezzlement.
The Interfax-Ukraine news agency said the criminal case was opened following complaints filed by Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov and Russian Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov.
Derevyanko said the case was opened on October 12, one day after Tymoshenko was jailed for seven years on abuse-of-office charges stemming from a 2009 natural gas deal Tymoshenko signed with Russia.
'Preposterous And Wild'
A member of Tymoshenko’s political faction in parliament, Oleksandr Hudyma, reacted to today’s announcement in an interview with RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.
"This is simply a belated reaction of the Security Service of Ukraine while the world is talking about political reprisals in Ukraine," Hudyma said. "It looks preposterous and wild, and for me, it is an unpleasant surprise."
In Brussels, European Union spokesman Michael Mann described the new case against Tymoshenko as “extremely worrying."
"We set out our position very clearly after the initial sentence, and the high representative [Catherine Ashton] made the same point in the European Parliament yesterday -- that it is clear that these trials are not done according to international standards," Mann said. "There seems to be selective justice basically against the member of the former government of Mrs. Tymoshenko. And if this is true -- what we are seeing in the news reports -- this is a very worrying development."
The EU has said Tymoshenko's seven-year jail sentence could have "profound implications" for relations, while the U.S. State Department said Tymoshenko’s conviction raised “serious concern about the government of Ukraine's commitment to democracy and the rule of law.”
An EU spokesman, Michael Mann, told RFE/RL that the opening of a new case against Tymoshenko was "extremely worrying" and that Ukrainian authorities were using "selective justice."
Tymoshenko, who came to international prominence as a leader of the 2004 Orange Revolution that doomed Yanukovych's first bid to become Ukraine's president, said she would appeal the verdict.
She says the case was part of a political vendetta by Yanukovych, who narrowly defeated her in Ukraine's 2010 presidential election.
As he faced harsh international criticism over Tymoshenko’s sentence, President Viktor Yanukovych today said he backs legal changes that could allow her release.
Speaking in the western city of Kamenets-Podolsky, Yanukovych said a law that served as a basis for Tymoshenko's conviction was outdated, adding that he agrees with those who want to amend it. He said that such amendments could be made in time for an appeals court to review the case.
Parliament is considering a version of the bill submitted by the Yanukovych administration that doesn't make direct reference to the charges against Tymoshenko.
written by Antoine Blua, with contributions from Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service