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Ukraine Jails Former Defense Minister For Abuse Of Office

A court in Ukraine on Thursday sentenced former defense minister Valery Ivashchenko to five years in prison on charges related to abuse of office. He is the third minister in the cabinet of jailed opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to be jailed in recent months on similar charges.

The Pechersk district court in capital Kiev sentenced Ivashchenko, who was defense minister in 2009-10, after finding him guilty of abusing his power in connection with the privatization of a state shipbuilding plant in the Crimean port of Feodosiya in 2009.

In earlier hearings, prosecutors alleged that the privatization deal caused an estimated $8.8 million in damages to Ukraine's budget. The prosecutors had demanded a six-year prison sentence for the former defense minister.

Ivashchenko, who has been held in custody since his arrest in August 2010, has denied any wrongdoing and insists that the case against him is politically motivated. Ivashchenko's lawyer has indicated that he plans to appeal the ruling.

Following Thursday's court verdict, Ukrainian media quoted Ivashchenko as saying that he had "every reason to believe that the sentence is unjust." The former minister also denounced the prosecutor general's office as a "criminal organization."

Last week, a court in Keiv had sentenced Heorhiy Filipchuk, the former natural resources minister in Tymoshenko's government, to three years in prison for exceeding his authority while signing a contract with a legal firm over a Black Sea exploration deal. Earlier, Yuri Lutsenko, the former interior minister in Tymoshenko's cabinet, was convicted and sentenced to four years in prison in February for embezzlement and abuse of office.

Tymoshenko herself was sentenced in October to seven years in prison for exceeding her powers in signing gas contracts with Russia in 2009. She was also ordered to pay a compensation of 1.5 billion hryvna ($187 million) lost by the state-run Naftogaz as a result of the deal.

An appeal against her conviction and sentencing was rejected in December. Tymoshenko has since been charged with new offenses dating back to the 1990s, including tax evasion, theft and concealing foreign currency revenues. She is currently serving a jail term at the Kachanivska Penal Colony in Kharkiv.

The 50-year-old opposition leader insists that her trial and the additional charges as a politically-motivated ploy of arch rival President Yanukovych to disqualify her from contesting the October 2012 parliamentary and the 2015 presidential elections.

Tymoshenko, who was Ukraine's first female Prime Minister, and former President Viktor Yushchenko are considered the leading lights of the the 2004 'Orange Revolution' that ousted President Yanukovych from power by getting his fraud-tainted election victory canceled.

Yushchenko has since faded into political oblivion. Nonetheless, the Kremlin-backed Yanukovych was re-elected President in the February 2010 election, defeating Tymoshenko by just 3.5 percentage points. Tymoshenko lost her premiership in March 2010 after losing a vote of confidence and is now Ukraine's Opposition leader.

by RTTNews Staff Writer

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