The former Interior Minister, Yuriy Lutsenko, was yesterday sentenced to a 4-year prison term with confiscation of his property and wealth, on charges of misappropriation of state property and exceeding his official powers. Mr Lutsenko has already served 14 months in detention, since his arrest in December 2010.

Reports from independent monitoring groups, including the Danish Helsinki Committee had already cast significant doubts on the fairness of the trial process: the lengthy pre-trial detention when Lutsenko had already accepted travel restrictions; Lutsenko and his lawyer were not given all the evidence and documents they needed to be able to fully prepare their defence; Lutsenko was not allowed to be in court on several occasions when evidence was being heard. The Committee concluded there was a significant risk that the trial process would be selective and unfair.

Reaction to Mr Lutsenko's sentencing has been critical and swift. The President of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, Jean-Claude Mignon, has called for him to be released, on the grounds that he has not been given a fair trial, and referred to him as "a victim" of current government policy . He said, "It is unacceptable for former members of the government of a Council of Europe member state to be prosecuted for political reasons. This practice is contrary to the rule of law and takes Ukraine further away from the principles of our organisation as well as the European integration to which this country aspires."

Baroness Ashton and Commissioner Stefan Fule issued a joint statement which expressed their disappointment with the verdict against Mr Lutsenko, "... which signals the continuation of trials in Ukraine which do not respect international standards as regards fair, transparent and independent legal process."

The UK Minister for Europe, David Lidington, said "The conviction of former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuri Lutsenko is deeply concerning and another example of the decline in respect for the rule of law in Ukraine."

The European Court of Human Rights has set 17 April to examine the case of Lutsenko, and his lawyers - who are also appealing the verdict of the Ukrainian court - have said that they are confident the Court will conclude that the trail was politically motivated.

AUGB's position has always been that it deplores the politicisation of the legal process and the Ukrainian government's lack of progress towards reforms which would meet European standards of democracy. The Lutsenko sentence, in the face of significant pressure for change from European institutions, is yet another example of the Ukrainian government's willingness to put electoral advantage and political revenge over the principles of democracy and over Ukraine's European future.

Ukrayinska Dumka


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