Ukrainian prosecutors announced Thursday that they have opened a new criminal investigation [press release, in Ukrainian] of opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko [personal website; JURIST news archive]. The prosecution's office alleges Tymoshenko, whose government was dissolved in March after she narrowly lost the presidential election to Viktor Yanukovych [official website, in Ukrainian], abused her authority and exceeded her official duties by purchasing "1000 Opel Combo" medical vans at a 20 percent mark-up while in office. Ukrainian prosecutors allege the vans were not properly equipped to function as ambulances and that the country suffered USD $67 million in damages as a result. Tymoshenko responded to the allegations calling them a "fabrication" [statement]. On her website, Tymoshenko said the purchase of the medical vans was part of a program to help people in the rural areas of Ukraine where medical centers are sparse:
According to statistics, 60% of people who die in the villages die not because they're deathly ill, but because a doctor can't reach them in time, because there is no transportation in the villages and no way for a doctor or nurse to reach the sick. That's why we used state guarantees to purchase 1,000 vehicles for 3,000 villages that helped save more than 100,000 lives in 2010 alone.Tymoshenko also accused the Ukrainian government of political repression. If found guilty of the charges, she could face up to 10 years in prison.
This is not the first time the Ukrainian government has investigated Tymoshenko. In December, prosecutors filed criminal charges against her [JURIST report] for allegedly misappropriating state funds during her time in office from 2007-2010. In May, prosecutors reopened a separate criminal investigation [JURIST report] into allegations that Tymoshenko attempted to bribe Supreme Court judges. The probe was initiated in May 2004 and then suspended [JURIST report] in June 2005. Last February, Tymoshenko withdrew a lawsuit [JURIST reports] filed in the Supreme Administrative Court of Ukraine claiming that the country's presidential election was corrupt. Tymoshenko had alleged that widespread voter fraud allowed Yanukovych to win the election.