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Ukraine jails ex-defence minister for 5 years
by Staff Writers
Kiev (AFP) April 12, 2012

A former Ukrainian defence minister who served under the jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko was sentenced to five years in prison on Thursday on abuse of office charges.

Valeriy Ivashchenko became the third minister in the pro-Western cabinet of Tymoshenko to be jailed in the two years since her presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych took office.

Tymoshenko has called the arrests and convictions a part of the new government's vendetta against her and her allies. The cases have also stalled the ex-Soviet republic's drive to one day join the European Union.

The Kiev district court sentenced Ivashchenko for overseeing a November 2009 land privatisation deal that allegedly cost the state budget nearly $10 million dollars. His co-defendant received a three-year jail term.

The 55-year-old had staged periodic hunger strikes during the trial and has been hospitalised since December in the neurological department of a Kiev hospital.

The court had the option to jail him for up to 10 years and chose the lighter sentence on account of his health. But the former minister still vowed to appeal the ruling.

"I consider this sentence illegal and unfair," Ivashchenko said moments after the judge's decision.

The Ukrainian president has called the wave of arrests a part of his effort to clean up the government and break ties between big business and the state.

But critics accuse Yanukovych of practicing selective justice and bringing a new groups of tycoons into government with whom he had enjoyed close relations before.

All of the cases against the former ministers have been controversial and some have involved violations which would not have even been the subject of criminal cases in the European Union.

Former interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko was handed a four-year sentence in February for arranging illegal work-related benefits for his driver.

Tymoshenko's natural resources minister Heorhiy Filipchuk received a three-year jail term over a contract he sign with a law firm.

The former Orange Revolution leader Tymoshenko herself was sentenced to seven years in jail in October for signing a 2009 natural gas agreement with Russia that allegedly cost Ukraine about $200 million.

Prosecutors have since expanded by the charge sheet against her to include alleged earlier crimes and she faces a new trial for embezzlement and tax fraud on April 19.

The case against Ivashchenko involved the sale of property owned by a ship plant in the Crimean port city of Feodosiya.

The struggling defence ministry unit has been hit by repeated strikes and wage conflicts amid allegations that its managers were selling off property and pocketing the income instead of paying off the plant's debts.

The prosecution alleged that Ivashchenko had been authorised to come up with a plan to save the plant but not sign off on the sale of its property.

The plant services the engines of ships belonging to Russia's Black Sea fleet -- a once-powerful but fast-ageing armada that now rarely goes to sea.

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