Ukraine's high court ruled Wednesday that there were "no grounds" for former premier Yulia Tymoshenko to appeal her seven-year jail sentence, a day after the European Court of Human Rights opened hearings on whether her rights have been violated.
AFP - Ukraine's high court on Wednesday upheld former premier Yulia Tymoshenko's jailing on abuse of power, in a ruling set to further upset its ties with Western powers that view the case as political.
About a hundred supporters of the 2004 Orange Revolution leader rallied in the 51-year-old's defence as Ukraine's highest judicial body agreed that she had no authority to seal a controversial gas deal with Russia in 2009.
"The judicial panel found no grounds for the appeal," judge Olexander Elfimov told the court after a lower court rejected her appeal on December 23, based on the claim that the case was politically motivated.
The rejection marks the end of Tymoshenko's domestic legal recourse and clears the way for her to take her full case to the European Court of Human Rights -- a move the defence had been kept from making by months of judicial delays.
The Strasbourg court opened hearings on Tuesday into whether Tymoshenko's pre-trial detention was politically motivated and whether her prison conditions had violated her basic rights.
Her probe was launched shortly after President Viktor Yanukovych narrowly beat his rival in a bitter 2010 presidential ballot whose outcome Tymoshenko -- backed by Ukrainian nationalists who seek closer EU ties -- initially refused to accept.
But the European court had no legal authority to rule on the merits of the conviction and seven-year jail sentence until all avenues had been exhausted in Ukraine.
Tymoshenko's defence said it expected victory in Strasbourg but continued resistance to Western pressure inside Ukraine itself.
"Your court is the only hope of Mrs. Tymoshenko," her lawyer Sergiy Vlasenko told the Strasbourg hearing before it went into private deliberations
But even a positive European court verdict may still not see Tymoshenko's release because she faces a brand new set of tax evasion and embezzlement charges that may keep her in jail for years to come.
The fiery and divisive figure's case -- viewed with increasing dispassion by Ukrainians who have grown tired of their leaders' incessant internal squabbles -- has been watched closely by both the European Union and Washington.
EU leaders have made the release of Tymoshenko and her other jailed allies a condition for Ukraine being given preliminary backing to eventual membership in the 27-nation bloc.
A more relaxed trade deal that would have offered incentives for such membership was withdrawn from Ukraine after Tymoshenko's October conviction.
Several European leaders and EU officials have also expressed their anger by skipping the football matches Ukraine co-hosted with Poland during this summer's European Championship.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her part has pronounced herself "deeply concerned by the treatment" of Ukraine's main opposition figure.
Yanukovych rejects his Western critics as biased and defends the case as part of a legitimate campaign against the type of corruption that has embroiled governments for most of Ukraine's recent past.
He has also spent recent months cautiously courting Russia -- a worrying shift for EU officials who are hoping to dislodge Kiev from Moscow's embrace.
The overtures come as his government and its base of Russian-speaking Ukrainians face monumental hurdles in October 28 parliamentary elections that the ruling Regions Party enters with its approval rating near all-time lows.
Ukraine is dependent on Russian gas for its energy and has seen its past Orange government's overtures with the West interrupted by the types of delivery crises that Tymoshenko was trying to solve in 2009.
Date created : 2012-08-29