Ukraine may pardon jailed oppo leader

Mar 01, 2013, 12:22 PM EST
Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych speaks during a press conference in Kiev, Ukraine, Friday,March, 1, 2013.
(AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukraine's president said Friday he will consider pardoning an imprisoned ally of jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, in an apparent move to ease tensions with the West.

Tymoshenko and her former Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko have been jailed on charges of abuse of office condemned as politically motivated by the West. Both deny the charges, accusing President Viktor Yanukovych of throwing them in jail to bar them from politics.

The European Union has given Ukraine until May to resolve the cases of Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, and Lutsenko, saying it will not sign a key partnership agreement with Kiev until its concerns over the jailed politicians are addressed. Lutsenko's health has deteriorated significantly during the more than two years he spent in jail and the West has pressed strongly for his quick release.

Yanukovych said he will consider Lutsenko's case after the opposition leader exhausts all appeals options in court.

"Court of appeals hearings will be over. If he is not freed, I will consider the question of pardoning him, my turn will come," Yanukovych said at a news conference.

Yanukovych also hinted that Tymoshenko may see her punishment softened if she compensates the state for the damages her actions have brought.

"Yulia Tymoshenko must defend herself within the legal framework," Yanukovych said. "Today the new criminal and procedural code allows for softening punishment for economic crimes, but with one condition: that the losses incurred by the state are paid off." He did not elaborate.

However, Yanukovych's statement offered little consolation to Tymoshenko's supporters. She was sentenced to seven years in jail for overstepping her authority while negotiating a gas contract with Russia in 2009, which the court then ruled to be harmful for the Ukrainian economy.

Tymoshenko was also ordered to pay about $190 million for the losses the state incurred as a result of her failing to negotiate better terms. But Tymoshenko's allies have said she would never agree to pay any money because she considers her prosecution, verdict and jailing illegal and politically motivated.