KIEV (Reuters) - Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich on Thursday defended a criminal court action against his political foe, ex-prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, and refused to interfere in her trial.
Yanukovich has come under pressure from the West to intervene in the Tymoshenko trial, which many Western governments say appears to be politically motivated.
Yanukovich and Tymoshenko have been at daggers drawn since he narrowly defeated her in an ill-tempered election for president in February 2010.
Her supporters say the trial on a charge of abuse-of-office and which has been going on for several week is aimed at neutralising her as an opposition force.
Replying specifically to Czech President Vaclav Klaus, Yanukovich said the Ukrainian court system was “independent and unbiased.”
“I cannot and will not interfere in the work of the Ukrainian courts,” he wrote in a letter to Klaus, the text of which was published on Yanukovich’s presidential website.
Referring not only to Tymoshenko’s trial but others in which some of her former allies have been imprisoned, he said: “None of today’s court hearings involving former state civil servants have been or can be politically motivated.”
In a letter to Yanukovich on Tuesday, Klaus asked for his assurance that the trial was not being used to settle “personal and political differences inside Ukrainian politics.”
Tymoshenko, 50, is accused of exceeding her authority and coercing the Ukrainian state energy company Naftogaz into signing an agreement with Russia’s Gazprom in 2009 that saddled the country with an unfavourable price for Russian gas. She denies this.
Since the trial began at the end of June, Tymoshenko has refused to stand for the judge and denounced him as a Yanukovich “puppet.”
The judge last Friday ordered her to be held in police custody for contempt of court, triggering street protests outside the city centre courthouse.
Writing by Richard Balmforth