Ukraine arrests former interior minister
Mon, Dec 27, 2010

KIEV - Ukrainian authorities on Sunday arrested the country's former interior minister amid an ongoing probe into the pro-Western cabinet of ex-premier turned opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko.

Yury Lutsenko was detained by at least 10 Alpha special security officers while taking his dog out for a walk with his son in the capital Kiev, his spokeswoman Inna Kysil told AFP.

The former Orange Revolution leader was bundled into a car and taken to a jail operated by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), an offshoot of the Soviet-era KGB, the spokeswoman added.

"He had already been ordered not to leave the city, so I think that this arrest came as a complete surprise to him," said Kysil.

The prosecutor general's office confirmed Lutsenko's detention but said that a formal statement would only be issued on Monday.

Last month, officials charged Lutsenko, 46, with abuse of power and taking personal possession of state property.

Ukrainian media reports said the charges are linked to an allegedly improper 40,000-hryvnia (S$6,544) payment the former minister made to his driver.

Lutsenko, who along with Tymoshenko was one of the leaders of the 2004 protest movement that followed elections allegedly rigged in favour of then-prime minister Viktor Yanukovych - now the country's president - has called the charges against him politically motivated.

Late Sunday Lutsenko said through his lawyer that he was arrested as part of the probe into the poisoning of former president Viktor Yushchenko when he was a presidential candidate in 2004, according to a statement on his party's website.

He denounced what he termed the "repression of opponents."

A veteran politician who supports Ukraine's integration into Europe, Lutsenko has held various positions in the former Soviet republic, serving as interior minister in Tymoshenko's government for three years.

He was initially appointed as the country's first civilian interior minister by Yushchenko in February 2005.

Tymoshenko has herself been charged with embezzling 960,000 hryvnias as well as abuse of power and ordered not to leave Kiev.

The charges could put the charismatic Orange Revolution leader in prison for up to a decade and keep her out of politics for three years upon her release.

In February, Tymoshenko lost a hard-fought presidential election battle to Yanukovych, leading her to step down as prime minister in early March and go into opposition.

She has since accused Yanukovych of repeated attempts to silence her and sharply criticised his policies, particularly his efforts to build closer ties with Moscow.

"I hope that Yulia Tymoshenko finds a way to defend herself and her collaborators," Yanukovych said on Ukrainian television Sunday, stressing that the probe was not "political".

Several former cabinet ministers also have been arrested or charged with various crimes since the return to power of Yanukovych, who once espoused a strongly pro-Kremlin line but since coming to power has been receptive to contacts with Europe.

These include former first deputy justice minister Yevhen Korniychuk, who was arrested this month, and Bogdan Danylychyn, the former economy minister who remains under arrest in the Czech Republic, where he is seeking political asylum.

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