KIEV, June 29 – Former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, on trial for alleged abuse of power, will ask the court Monday for permission to travel to New York next month to attend a legal battle with her powerful opponent.
Tymoshenko has sued Dmytro Firtash, an ally of President Viktor Yanukovych, Swiss-based gas trader RosUkrEnergo AG, and other defendants at U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York of “defrauding Ukraine’s citizenry” via racketeering.
“At the next [Kiev] court meeting [Monday], I will appeal in order to be able to attend the court in New York,” Tymoshenko said Wednesday. “Let’s see what happens.”
Tymoshenko’s travel has been effectively restricted since December 2010, when prosecutors began an investigation into her alleged abuse of power.
Tymoshenko, on April 26 sued Firtash and his Swiss-based gas trader RosUkrEnergo AG, in U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, for defrauding Ukraine's citizenry in a separate case that may be worth billions of U.S. dollars.
The suit, a class action on behalf of the Ukrainian people, was filed in U.S. federal court under the Alien Torts Statute, which accommodates actions in U.S. courts to uphold international law, as well as the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Practices Act (RICO).
U.S. District Judge, Richard J. Sullivan, ordered on June 21 that both Tymoshenko and Firtash appear at the court in New York on July 22 for a status conference.
Tymoshenko was able to visit Brussels earlier this year, but the authorities had restricted her travel for most of the time.
Serhiy Vlasenko, Tymoshenko’s lawyer, said that he was skeptical about the possibility of attending the case in New York.
“The [Ukrainian] court has not even allowed her to visit Lviv,” Vlasenko told reporters asked to assess chances of traveling to New York. “What America are you talking about?”
Firtash responded on Wednesday by claiming he had not heard about the New York court case, and asked Tymoshenko to officially deliver the order from the judge.
“Firtash did not receive any official report that such lawsuit exists,” Firtash’s press service reported. “Official court papers have never been delivered to him.”
The latest lawsuit comes after the Ukrainian authorities have launched investigation against Tymoshenko accusing her of “exceeding authority” while negotiating as the prime minister a 10-year natural gas agreement with Russia in January 2009.
The agreement paved the way to a shakeup of the natural gas market in Ukraine, which had eliminated RosUkrEnergo and had increased the role of Gazprom on the Ukrainian market.
Tymoshenko’s allegations stem from an international arbitration court ruling in Stockholm last year that ordered Ukraine's state energy company Naftogaz UKrayiny to pay RosUkrEnergo 11 billion cubic meters of gas to compensate for fuel it had "expropriated" plus 1.1 billion cubic meters as a penalty.
Naftogaz and Gazprom said in November 2010 they had agreed to a settlement under which Naftogaz would return 12.1 billion cubic meters of gas -- worth almost $3 billion -- to RosUkrEnergo, while the Swiss gas trader would redeem $1.7 billion of debt to Naftogaz and $810 million to Gazprom.
According to the suit, the Stockholm ruling was "widely perceived as a means of generating huge sums of cash with which Firtash and his associates could continue to illegally fund the pervasive" corruption that it said marks every level of government, "while at the same time suppressing political dissent through intimidation, racketeering and other violations of fundamental human and political rights." (tl/ez)