|Supporters of jailed former leader Yulia Tymoshenko say the charges against her are politically motivated [Reuters]
A former Ukrainian interior minister and close ally of jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko has been sentenced to fours year in jail for embezzlement and abuse of office.
Yuri Lutsenko, 47, a member of opposition party Narodna Samooborona (People's Self-defence), has dismissed the charges as politically motivated and, in earlier comments, made it clear that he expected to be jailed.
"Everybody understands that this is a political trial, not a judicial one," Lutsenko said from a metal cage in the courtroom on Monday as Judge Serhiy Vovk read out the verdict.
The verdict and sentence imposed on Lutsenko means he will stay in jail for two years and 10 months, allowing for time already served since his December 2010 arrest.
Lutsenko's alleged offences include illegally granting an apartment to his lawyer and financial irregularities relating to
celebrations marking National Police Day.
Lutsenko maintained his innocence after the verdict. "The court has read a decision made by politicians. I will prove my case legally and politically," he said.
The European Union and the US have condemned this trial and the case targeting Tymoshenko as politically motivated proceedings and examples of selective justice.
Tymoshenko, a former prime minister in whose government Lutsenko had served, was also convicted for abuse of office last October and sentenced to seven years in prison in a case that has damaged Ukraine's ties with the West.
Viktor Yanukovych, the current prime minister and Tymoshenko's arch-foe, has justified the trials as fighting corruption.
Brussels has put off the signing of an association agreement and a free trade deal with Ukraine over the issue, urging Kiev to free Tymoshenko and allow her to compete in a parliamentary election in October.
Lutsenko's sentencing, however, suggested Tymoshenko was unlikely to go free any time soon.
Tymoshenko, 51, helped lead the 2004 Orange Revolution street protests, that thwarted a first bid for the presidency by Yanukovich, and went on to serve two terms as prime minister.
But after Yanukovich made a comeback and beat her in an election for the presidency in February 2010, criminal
proceedings were brought against her and other members of the opposition.
Tymoshenko was found guilty of illegally forcing through a 2009 gas deal with Russia which Yanukovich's government says has saddled Ukraine with an exorbitant price for vital fuel supplies.
A former acting defence minister who served under Tymoshenko, Valery Ivashchenko has also been in detention since August 2010, on charges of illegally selling a ship-repair factory in Crimea.
Tymoshenko's husband, Olexander, and another ally, the former economy minister Bohdan Danylyshin, have both fled to the Czech Republic where they have been granted asylum. Other Tymoshenko supporters inside Ukraine remain vocal.