The FINANCIAL — A Kyiv court adjourned Viktor Yanukovych’s in absentia treason trial until September 21 after the former Ukrainian president’s new lawyer asked for more time to prepare.
In a September 6 ruling, Obolon District Court Judge Vladyslav Devyatko granted new state-appointed defense attorney Maksym Herasko’s request for additional time to get acquainted with the case.
The ruling came a day after Ukraine’s chief prosecutor said that Yanukovych could now face a new charge — illegally seizing power — over constitutional changes made early in his presidential term.
Yanukovych’s previous state-appointed lawyer, Vitaliy Meshechek, withdrew from proceedings on August 17, citing the “particular difficulty” of the case and saying he could not handle it properly without assistants, according to RFE/RL’s Ukrainian Service.
Two lawyers who had represented Yanukovych before Meshechek withdrew from the case on July 6, saying that Yanukovych had informed them that he did not need their services anymore.
Yanukovych announced on that day that he would not participate in the trial, charging that it was politically motivated. The court then decided to provide him with a state-appointed lawyer.
Yanukovych abandoned office in late February 2014 and fled to Russia in the face of protests triggered by his decision to scrap plans for a landmark deal with the European Union and improve trade ties with Moscow instead.
Dozens of people were killed when his government attempted to clamp down on the pro-European protests known as the Euromaidan.
Prosecutors are seeking life imprisonment for Yanukovych, who is accused of treason, violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and abetting Russian aggression.
After he fled, Russia seized Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula and fomented opposition to the central government in eastern Ukraine, where the ensuing war between Kyiv’s forces and Russia-backed separatists has killed more than 10,000 people.
Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Yuriy Lutsenko wrote on Facebook on September 5 that a new investigation has been launched in which Yanukovych is suspected of “the illegal seizure of power via a constitutional coup in 2010.”
“Yanukovych and former Justice Minister [Oleksandr] Lavrynovych have been informed that they are suspected of the illegal seizure of power along with other individuals,” Lutsenko wrote.
Yanukovych was elected president in February 2010. In October 2010, Ukraine’s Constitutional Court annulled 2004 constitutional amendments on transferring some presidential powers to the parliament.
Under the 2004 amendments, the president had lost the power to nominate the prime minister and dismiss a government.
In February 21, a day before Yanukovych was toppled, the Ukrainian parliament reinstated the 2004 constitutional amendments.