Monday, 25 June 2012
Ukraine Presses Ex-Leader On Murder Charges
KIEV, Ukraine -- A senior prosecutor said Friday that the authorities would compel jailed ex-Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to undergo a medical examination in order to prove she is fit to face charges for complicity in the 1996 killing of a businessman and lawmaker. Renat Kuzmin, Ukraine's first deputy prosecutor general, said in an interview that investigators had enough evidence to charge her and an associate as "organizers and financers" in the killing. He said prosecutors would by the end of this month order a forensic medical examination of Ms. Tymoshenko, who has a back complaint, to establish whether she is well enough to be questioned and charged. He refused to specify what article of the Criminal Code she could be charged under. Ms. Tymoshenko denies any involvement in the killing. Mr. Kuzmin's comments Friday indicate that the Ukrainian authorities have no intention of backing down in the face of Western pressure to release the opposition leader. The jailing of Ms. Tymoshenko, 51 years old, on abuse-of-office charges last fall has frozen the former Soviet republic's previously warm relations with the U.S. and the European Union. Western officials accuse Mr. Yanukovych of using the courts to sideline his main rival. The EU has shelved a political-association and free-trade agreement in protest, and several European ministers are boycotting the European soccer championship, which is currently taking place in Ukraine. Mr. Kuzmin said he believed that Ms. Tymoshenko, a fiery leader of the prodemocracy Orange Revolution in 2004, was "not as ill as she wants to appear." She is currently being treated in a state-run hospital for a spinal hernia. Mr. Kuzmin said there were at least a half-dozen criminal cases open against her. A new trial into alleged tax evasion starts on Monday. An appeal against her seven-year sentence for abuse of office in brokering a 2009 gas deal with Russia will be heard on Tuesday. The more sensational murder case could follow. Mr. Kuzmin said that she, along with former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, organized and financed the 1996 killing of Yevhen Shcherban, a lawmaker and businessman who was gunned down at an airport in the east Ukrainian city of Donetsk. Mr. Kuzmin said Ms. Tymoshenko, who in the mid-1990s headed a gas-trading company, and Mr. Lazarenko "were engaged in a criminal business in Ukraine and eliminated competitors by killing them." He also linked them to the 1996 murders of businessmen Oleksandr Momot and Oleksandr Shvedchenko, who Mr. Kuzmin said were allies of Mr. Shcherban in resisting attempts by Ms. Tymoshenko to take control of the gas market. "They were all killed by a gang … working in the service of Lazarenko and Tymoshenko," Mr. Kuzmin said, speaking softly and deliberately. "Tymoshenko had direct contact with these killers. Money for the murder of Shcherban was transferred from the accounts of Lazarenko and Tymoshenko." Ms. Tymoshenko and Mr. Lazarenko, who is nearing the end of a nine-year sentence for money laundering in a California jail, deny involvement in the murders. "This is just propaganda," her lawyer, Serhiy Vlasenko, said. "It's the same as if he accused her of killing President Kennedy. They have all the power and could accuse her of killing everyone in this country for the last 20 years." Diplomats and analysts said Mr. Yanukovych was playing hardball. "It appears Yanukovych will continue doubling down until the West gives in, which it won't," said a senior Western diplomat in Kiev. "They are trying to destroy her politically both internationally and domestically." Mr. Yanukovych has denied interfering in the prosecutions, and Mr. Kuzmin brushed aside criticism from the West that the investigations into Ms. Tymoshenko were politically motivated. "I am not aware of any information that the president of the country gave prosecutors any instructions," he said. "We are studying all murders committed in those years. It will allow us to establish what was happening in Ukraine during those years."