Ukraine's ex-Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko waves during a rally in front of the parliament in Kiev
Ukraine's ex-Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko waves during a rally in front of the parliament in Kiev April 24, 2010. REUTERS

The husband of jailed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko won political asylum in the Czech Republic Friday, as he and Tymoshenko's party said the government launched a criminal investigation against him, the Associated Press reported.

Oleksandr Tymoshenko, 51, fled to the Czech Republic in December, where he formally applied for political asylum. Czech Interior Ministry spokesman Vladimir Repka said his ministry approved the application submitted, but refused to provide details about the decision to approve it.

Last year, relations were strained between the Czech Republic and Ukraine when it approved asylum for one of Tymoshenko's allies, former Ukrainian Economics Minister Bohdan Danylyshin, who was charged with abuse of office in his country, according to the AP.

Yulia Tymoshenko, 51, was convicted in October of abusing her powers while negotiating a natural gas import contract in Russia in 2009, and sentenced to seven years in jail. The United States and European Union have condemned the ruling, alleging that the conviction is a ploy to keep the top opposition leader behind bars in order to keep her from elections.

Tymoshenko insists that her legal woes are a political lynching by her principal foe, Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who wants to rid himself of a political rival. Last year, Tymoshenko lost to Yanukovych in a bitter battle for the presidency, garnering 45.47 percent of the votes.

Despite pressure from the West, a Ukrainian appeals court in December upheld her guilty verdict and sentence. She boycotted the appeals hearing, saying in a statement that seeking truth and justice in the Ukrainian courts is completely futile.

In November, human rights groups said the former prime minister is in poor health, citing a bad back problem and being confined to a cell where the lights are never switched off.

On Friday, in remarks broadcast on Russia's NTV television, Tymoshenko's lawer said Okesandr had asked for asylum in the Czech Republic because he is being targeted in an ongoing probe into his wife's business activities when she owned Ukraine's top energy company, the AP wrote.

This step by Okesander Tymoshenko is in response to amoral attempts to pressure and torment Yulia Tymoshenko by persecuting her loves ones and family, Batkivshchyna, Tymoshenko's Fatherland party, said in a statement. Yanukovych has chosen the dirtiest tactic: to break Yulia Tymoshenko by pressuring members of her family. His decision to seek political asylum was dictated by the desire to deprive the regime of mechanisms to pressure the leader of our party.

Tymoshenko's daughter, Yevgenia, 31, is also considering seeking asylum abroad, a family lawyer said.