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Swiss stash? Ukraine seeks ‘Tymoshenko’ funds

Opposition supporters have been demanding Tymoshenko's release

(Keystone)

Ukraine’s top prosecutor, Viktor Pshonka, has met his Swiss colleagues to inform them that formal complaints against opposition leader and former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko for embezzlement could be filed in the near future.

Pshonka travelled to Switzerland last week for talks with prosecutors in Bern and Geneva. The Attorney General’s office confirmed that the complaints were discussed, but its spokesman said that Tymoshenko’s name was not mentioned, given the sensitive nature of the case.

However the Ukrainian prosecutor told Swiss public broadcaster RTS that Tymoshenko was being targeted.

“A lot of people think that Yulia Tymoshenko is first and foremost a politician who is only interested in politics,” Pshonka said. “This is not the case. She gave all her energy to reach just one goal: bypass our laws and make money for herself.”

Earlier this month, the Ukrainian government mandated a London-based law practice to recover funds that were allegedly embezzled by the former prime minister during the 1990s.

As the head of United Energy Systems, the company with the monopoly for natural gas distribution at the time, she is accused of shifting to foreign bank accounts huge sums of money, aided and abetted by mentor, the then prime minister, Pavel Lazarenko.

Lazarenko has since been sentenced in the United States and Switzerland for corruption and money laundering.

According to Pshonka, the complaints that are to be filed in Switzerland concern funds, worth hundreds of millions of dollars, deposited in Swiss banks by companies controlled by Tymoshenko and Lazarenko.

“It is time to ensure that the misappropriated funds are returned to Ukraine in a civilised way, respecting all international norms,” he added.

EU pressure

Ukraine has chosen to file complaints for money laundering against some banks with the aim of getting assets frozen and hopefully returned. Kiev hopes that it will get faster results than if it followed the traditional path of mutual legal assistance with the Swiss authorities.

Tymoshenko is already in prison. In October 2011, she was sentenced to seven years detention for abuse of office related to the 2009 signature of a gas contract while she was prime minister, after a trial that Western governments say was political.

For the Ukrainians, the situation is delicate as the country plans to sign a free trade and cooperation agreement with the European Union within the next two weeks. However the EU says the former Soviet republic has not yet met the conditions the bloc has laid down.

The main sticking point is the Tymoshenko case. EU governments see it as symbolic of "selective justice" in Ukraine and want her, as part of a compromise, to be allowed to travel to Germany to be treated for chronic back trouble.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, whose supporters fear a comeback by the opposition leader could disrupt his bid for re-election in 2015, has refused to pardon her. He has, however, said he will sign into law any proposal by parliament to allow her to go to Germany for treatment.

swissinfo.ch and agencies

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