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Fule 'concerned' about Ukraine probes

  |   Jan. 31, 2013 at 12:04 AM
BRUSSELS, Jan. 31 (UPI) -- The integration chief for the European Union says he's concerned about the recent escalation of investigations aimed at associates of Yulia Tymoshenko.

EU Commissioner for Enlargement and European Neighborhood Policy Stefan Fule told a Ukrainian parliamentary leader Monday in Brussels that investigations being carried out by government prosecutors against allies of the imprisoned opposition leader didn't bode well for EU-Ukraine relations, an official statement indicated.

While reaffirming Brussels' intent to sign a long-sought "association agreement" with Kiev if a series of reforms are carried out, Fule "expressed concern" about investigations launched against Tymoshenko attorney Serhiy Vlasenko as well as her former deputy prime minister, Hryhoriy Nemyria, with whom he met Monday.

Nemyria, a member of the Ukrainian Parliament for Tymoshenko's party, was appointed chairman of its committee on European integration this month and was meeting with Fule in that capacity.

The EU leader asked Nemyria to convey support and solidarity Tymoshenko, the Russian news website NewsRu.ua reported.

Prosecutors launched investigations of the Tymoshenko allies this month for allegedly using offshore shell companies to pay a British public relations firm for providing services to her Batkivshchyna Party and its predecessors from 2006-11. Outside financing of campaigns is forbidden under Ukrainian law.

At the heart of the case are purported email messages and documents obtained from the PR firm, Ridge Consulting, and published by a WikiLeaks-style website called Nemyrialeaks.com.

They depict Nemyria as the main conduit between offshore bank accounts and Ridge Consulting.

The lawmaker has categorically denied any wrongdoing, The Kyiv Post reported, while Vlasenko has said Ukrainian authorities have manufactured fake email messages allegedly sent between Nemyria and Tymoshenko's daughter Eugenia in effort to discredit the opposition movement.

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year prison sentence after being convicted on charges she abused her power when, as prime minister in 2009, she helped broker a natural gas deal with Russian energy company Gazprom.

Tymoshenko announced early this month she was waging a campaign of civil disobedience to protest her detention, which her supporters say is politically motivated. Last year, the leader of the country's Orange Revolution launched a brief hunger strike to protest prison conditions.

Her party took second in October parliamentary elections.

Tymoshenko's imprisonment, as well as that of former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, remains a major impediment to the successful conclusion of an association agreement with the European Union, which would set up a free trade regime as well as closer economic and political cooperation between the two sides.

In exchange, the European bloc is pressing for reforms on the rule of law, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, good governance, a market economy and sustainable development.

Fule is to visit Ukraine next month in a bid to advance the agreement, which both sides want to have signed this year.

During the visit, he said he hopes to meet with Lutsenko, Ian Tombinsky, the head of the European Union's delegation to Ukraine, said last week, NewsRu.ua reported.

"The opportunity to meet with Mr. Lutsenko depends on his health, as he is in the hospital," Tombinsky said.

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