KIEV, Ukraine (AP) - The top lawyer for jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko said Monday he is under criminal investigation and fears imminent arrest. He denied any wrongdoing and accused the government of trying to sideline him.
A criminal case against Tymoshenko's staunch ally Serhiy Vlasenko would likely further sour Ukraine's ties with the West, already strained over Tymoshenko's imprisonment. The West has condemned her seven-year sentence on charges of abuse of office as politically motivated and the European Union has put on hold a landmark cooperation agreement with Kiev over it.
Vlasenko told reporters Monday that he stands accused of car theft, robbery and failing to obey a court ruling stemming from his divorce several years ago.
Vlasenko dismissed all the accusations as a campaign by Tymoshenko's longtime political foe, President Viktor Yanukovych, to lock him up and leave Tymoshenko without a strong defense. Vlasenko said he expects the Yankukovych-controlled Parliaments to pass a law stripping him of parliamentary immunity, and to be arrested in three weeks.
Asked how he felt about that, a red-faced Vlasenko raised a middle finger.
"They need to shut up all those who can tell the truth about the Tymoshenko case and deny her the possibility to defend herself," he told reporters.
Vlasenko said the accusation of car theft concerns his own car, which his former wife claims is her property. The accusation of robbery stems from an incident in which he snatched a cellphone from the hands of his former wife and deleted some videos of himself, he said.
"This is not funny. This is seven years in jail," Vlasenko said.
There was no immediate comment from the Prosecutor General's office.
Last week, Ukrainian authorities stepped up their legal campaign against Tymoshenko, accusing her of organizing the murder of a businessman nearly 20 years ago.
Tymoshenko has been convicted of overstepping her authority while negotiating a gas deal with Russia in 2009. She says she is innocent of all the charges and accuses Yanukovych of throwing her in jail to bar her from the October parliamentary election.
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