Justice Ministry Travesty
In depressingly familiar mode, Ukraine’s Justice Ministry’s presentation of one and the same government-commissioned report differs from just about everybody else’s. Most worryingly, on certain crucial points it differs from that of the report’s authors. The US law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP was controversially commissioned in April to assess the trial of Yulia Tymoshenko over the gas accords with Russia in 2009. Taxpayers’ money – by Ukrainian standards most certainly a large amount – was thus used to call in US experts to “justify” the prosecution and reject allegations that it was politically motivated.
According to the Justice Ministry this is precisely what they did. Substantial media publications in the US and UK confirm that the report on many points seems to back the government, but in fact it finds a number of infringements of Tymoshenko’s right to a fair trial. All of this may have been orchestrated ahead of the European Court of Human Rights judgement in Tymoshenko’s case, yet Strasbourg’s judges would not have been influenced even if the findings had been 100 percent in the government’s favour.
The very fact that the government is involved in the first place is already disturbing, as is the bias and inaccuracy of the Justice Ministry’s report.
This states that:
“Leading International Law Firm P did not find evidence of political motivation in judgement of Tymoshenko…
… This report, published today on the Ministry’s website without amendment, concludes as groundless Yulia Tymoshenko’s claims that her prosecution was politically motivated and states that she has provided no factual evidence that would be sufficient to overturn her conviction under European or American standards
They said, in fact, that "we do not believe that Mrs Tymoshenko has provided specific evidence of political motivation that would be sufficient to overturn her conviction under American standards."
The New York Times reports one of the authors, Gregory Craig as saying that the authors were unable to judge the circumstances which led to the trial. He stated: “We leave to others the question of whether this prosecution was politically motivated, ” he said. “Our assignment was to look at the evidence in the record and determine whether the trial was fair.” This is also repeated in the report itself.
The Justice Minister’s assertion was presumably aimed at those who are unlikely to read a fairly long report.
They would therefore also be unaware that the following is entirely untrue:
“Even where the Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP Report questions certain procedural decisions by the court, it concludes that these decisions were based on actions by Tymoshenko designed to disrupt the court’s work.”
The report suggests that Tymoshenko’s right to a fair trial was not observed, pointing to a number of crucial points - her detention, the fact that she was not allowed to call certain defence witnesses, the judge’s behaviour and others. These are not minor procedural infringements.
It is possibly no accident that the government brought in US lawyers. The description of the situation in early 2009 is factually accurate yet takes no account at all of the circumstances and the enormous pressure Ukraine was under to get the gas flowing to European countries in one of the worst months of Winter.
The report can be read in full here, and there has been an unusually large amount of press coverage in English. Since the report is dated September, presumably the government which published the report it commissioned on 13 December had a lot to do with the media flurry. It may, of course, be that the authors also wanted to get their negative comments noted given the inevitable scepticism over the task and those who commissioned it.
Scepticism is turned into concern by the distortion on the Justice Ministry site, and the effective use of a US law firm to come up with (Justice Ministry) statements like:
“The court concluded that Yulia Tymoshenko’s actions caused grave damage to Ukraine, since citizens of Ukraine continue to pay the highest prices in Europe for their gas due to Tymoshenko’s deal with Russia. In this sense, every citizen of this country is a victim of this crime.”
If this legal document drafted at the taxpayers’ expense was aimed at preventing or somehow countering the awaited European Court of Human Rights judgement, it misfired However the misleading descriptionl of the report on the Justice Ministry’s shows the propaganda nature of the whole exercise and it is to be regretted that the authors did not consider that before accepting such a dubious commission.