Ex Ukraine PM charged in Russia gas deal

May 24, 2011
Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko seen in a defendant's cage as former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko stands at right in a courtroom in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, May 23, 2011. Tymoshenko's top ally, former Interior Ministry Yuri Lutsenko was detained in late December on charges of abuse of office. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)
Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko seen in a defendant's cage as former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko stands at right in a courtroom in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, May 23, 2011. Tymoshenko's top ally, former Interior Ministry Yuri Lutsenko was detained in late December on charges of abuse of office.

KIEV, Ukraine (AP) — Ukrainian prosecutors on Tuesday charged former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko with abuse of office for signing a gas import contract with Russia at prices that officials say were too high.

Investigators say the 10-year contract signed in January 2009 was ruinous for the Ukrainian economy and that Tymoshenko did not have Cabinet approval to sign it.

Prosecutor General's office spokesman Yuri Boichenko said Tymoshenko's actions cost the state 3.5 billion hryvna ($440 million or euro310 million) in damages. He declined further comment on the charges filed Tuesday and the possible sentence.

Tymoshenko also has been charged with corruption in two other cases. She says the charges are part of a campaign by her arch-foe President Viktor Yanukovych to crush opposition.

The contract was signed amid a bitter pricing war with Russia, in which Russia cut off shipments to Ukraine. Because much of the gas that Russia sells to Europe transits through Ukraine, the cutoff caused weeks of natural gas shortages across Europe.

The contract commits Ukraine to paying $450 per 1,000 cubic meters of natural gas, higher than many other European countries. Tymoshenko denies any wrongdoing, saying the contract helped end the gas war and resume supplies to Ukraine and the rest of Europe.

Tymoshenko also has been charged with borrowing $526 million (euro380 million) from funds for environmental protection to pay pensions amid a severe economic crisis and of spending $8.4 million (euro6 million) on poorly equipped ambulances for rural hospitals that were allegedly used to drive around her activists.

Tymoshenko takes pride in paying the pensions and says the ambulances she bought saved hundreds of thousands of lives in remote villages.

Tymoshenko maintains her innocence on all counts.

About a dozen senior members in her former cabinet have been charged or investigated for corruption, and some are in jail, including Tymoshenko's ally former Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko.