A Ukrainian court refused to hear an appeal by former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko requesting to be released from police custody as she awaits trial on charges of abuse of power over a controversial 2009 gas deal with Russia.
REUTERS - Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko suffered a fresh setback in her trial on a charge of abuse of power when a higher court refused to hear her appeal against police detention on Friday.
The charismatic Tymoshenko narrowly lost to President Viktor Yanukovich in an election for president in February 2010 and has been at daggers drawn with him since.
She was sent for trial at the end of June on a charge of abuse of power over a gas deal signed with Russia in 2009 when she was prime minister, which the Yanukovich leadership says was against the national interest and left the country saddled with high prices for Russian gas.
She denies this and says her trial is part of a political vendetta by Yanukovich aimed at neutralising her as a force in Ukrainian politics ahead of an October 2012 parliamentary election.
The trial of Tymoshenko, 50, a fiery orator who enjoys iconic status among her followers, has been the stage for weeks of fractious exchanges between her and the trial judge in which she has accused him of being a “puppet” of Yanukovich.
Last Friday, the trial judge ordered her to be detained in police custody for contempt of court, sparking fresh protests among the hundreds of her followers who rally daily on the street in front of the central Kiev court.
The United States and European Union member states have called on the authorities to release Tymoshenko from police custody during the trial. Yanukovich has said he will not interfere in the court process.
Her lawyers on Friday went to an appeals court to ask it to throw out the detention decision on the grounds it was unlawful.
“The appeals court took the decision to refuse to consider the appeal,” said judge Olga Yesimova.
Tymoshenko’s lawyer Yuri Sukhov called the decision “a strange one”.
“Lawyers don’t appear to have the right to dispute an arrest. Such is democracy in Ukraine,” he said.
Tymoshenko’s trial is scheduled to continue on Monday.
Daily news briefReceive essential international news every morning