Ukraine could pardon jailed ex-minister: president

Ukraine's president said on Friday he may pardon a close ally of jailed ex-premier Yulia Tymoshenko while also dismissing the idea of freeing the opposition leader herself.

President Viktor Yanukovych’s three years in power have witnessed the jailing of several of the politicians who led the pro-democracy Orange Revolution of 2004.

These include Tymoshenko and her one-time interior minister Yuriy Lutsenko -- arrested while walking his dog outside his home in 2010.

Yanukovych said he would wait to see how Lutsenko's current appeal against his fraud conviction plays out in court before making a decision to pardon him.

"When the appeal court hearing ends, if it does not free him, I will review the issue of his pardon," Yanukovych said at a press conference marking his three years in power.

"Then it will be my turn."

Lutsenko was jailed for four years in February 2012 for embezzlement and abuse of office -- crimes related to extra pay he awarded his official driver.

"I have known Yuriy Lutsenko for a long time and I am sorry for him as a person. He is suffering from the stupidities he committed... I am not happy that he is suffering," Yanukovych said.

Lutsenko lawyer Igor Fomin noted that his client had not asked for a pardon because it would imply the assumption of guilt.

He said Yanukovych had the power to free his client without first receiving a pardon request from him.

"The pardons procedure is determined by the president," Fomin said. "The head of state can either keep the current procedure or change it."

Tymoshenko -- loser of a heated 2010 presidential election to Yanukovych -- was jailed for seven years in 2011 for overstepping her authority while prime minister by signing an unattractive gas deal with Russia.

She now also faces new charges of embezzlement and even co-organising the murder of a lawmaker in 1996.

Both politicians' cases have drawn strong criticism from United States while EU leaders have refused to sign an important trade agreement with Kiev until they are released.

But Yanukovych indicated he had no intention to pardon Tymoshenko by noting that her case "was very complicated" and a question to which "no one can give an unequivocal reply".

"I have said many times that I am not the investigator or the prosecutor. But today, when we know the story all the way to the end -- when we know that there were documents falsified -- that is why Tymoshenko was put on trial," he said.

"And the court found her guilty. Whether it is a just ruling a not -- the court made it.

"And he (the judge) gave her the minimum. The punishment envisioned by this crime is seven to 12 years."

Tymoshenko was also ordered to pay hundreds of millions of dollars in damages for the money the contract allegedly cost Ukraine.

Yanukovych said his rival may be eligible for the laxer rules of a new criminal code that does not jail white collar criminals for certain offences.

But he stressed that Tymoshenko would need to pay off her debt to the state to be considered for the exemptions.

"The new criminal procedures code humanises economic issues," Yanukovych said. "But under one condition -- that all the losses caused to the state are paid."

Ukrainian leaders generally have low approval ratings because politics -- after years of internal clan warfare -- are seen as corrupt.

And Yanukovych was also asked to explain how his son Olexander had grown up to become a hryvnia billionaire.

"I do not know any details," Yanukovych said. "I know that he is used to hard work."