Ukraine PM in surprise hearing at Tymoshenko trial

Tymoshenko is charged with abuse of power linked to gas contracts she signed with Russia in 2009

Kiev: Ukrainian Prime Minister Mykola Azarov
made an unexpected appearance today to give evidence as a
witness at the trial of his predecessor Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko is charged with abuse of power linked to gas
contracts she signed with Russia in 2009, in a case which
could see her barred from politics and even jailed for up to a

But the hearing started in a farcical manner with
Tymoshenko insisting she needed a Russian to Ukrainian
translator to understand the comments of Azarov, who normally
speaks in public in Russian.

"I do not understand Russian," said Tymoshenko, who always
speaks in Ukrainian in public although she is known to have a
good command of Russian.

"Please give me a translator for the Prime Minister of
Ukraine, who does not speak Ukrainian," added the politician.

One of the leaders of the pro-Western Orange Revolution in
2004, Tymoshenko narrowly lost to her old rival Viktor
Yanukovych in presidential elections last year and has alleged
the trial is a vendetta pursued by the President.

Azarov, a number-crunching bureaucrat rarely seen out of a
suit, is seen as a faithful ally of Yanukovych and served as
his deputy when the current President was Prime Minister.

Tymoshenko is accused of sustaining a loss to Ukraine`s
budget of 1.5 billion hryvnias (USD 190 million) when she
signed a new energy contract with Russia after a brief
interruption of gas deliveries in 2009.

It was not immediately clear who had called Azarov as a
witness but his evidence appeared to be set to back up the
case of the prosecution.

Tymoshenko signed the contracts with Russian Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin and Azarov said he had personally
asked the strongman how Moscow could have signed a deal that
was so disadvantageous for its neighbour.

"He replied that he did not understand the reasons himself
and it would be better to ask the Ukrainian officials who were
supposed to be representing the interests of Ukraine," Azarov

Azarov said that the current government was looking at how
to revise the contracts.

Known as Ukraine as the "Iron Lady" after her heroine
ex-British prime minister Margaret Thatcher or sometimes as
just "Vona" ("She"), Tymoshenko was briefly imprisoned in 2001
on forgery charges that were eventually quashed.

The current charges carry a sentence of between seven and
10 years in prison. But even if she escapes a jail sentence,
any guilty verdict would disqualify her from parliamentary
polls next year and the next presidential elections in 2015.


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