The Prosecutor General’s Office must have been looking forward to charging – or serving a notice on the suspicion of a crime, as stated in the new Code of Criminal Proceedings – Yulia Tymoshenko with contracting a murder.
This was not the first attempt but until now, the investigative group did not have the opportunity to acquaint the imprisoned ex-premier with the report on her alleged involvement in the assassination of MP Yevhen Shcherban on 3 November 1996 (see photo). When Ihor Kolpashchykov, Head of the Kachanivka Prison administration, finally read the notification of suspicion on 18 January 2013, journalists were urgently called to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Kyiv.
According to the Prosecutor’s Office, Tymoshenko, who at that time was the CEO of YeESU, United Energy Systems of Ukraine, and the then premier, Pavlo Lazarenko, had a business conflict with Shcherban: Lazarenko demanded that Donetsk enterprises buy gas from YeESU, while Shcherban was interested in reinforcing the position of the Industrial Union of Donbas on the gas market. Investigators insist that Tymoshenko had personally threatened Shcherban. According to the Prosecutor General’s Office, Lazarenko and Tymoshenko finally hired a group of killers who had previously assassinated the unofficial king of Donbas, Akhat Bragin, through deceased crime boss, Oleksandr Milchenko, known as Matros (Sailor). The day after Shcherban and his wife were fatally shot at the Donetsk airport, the killers received USD 500,000 in cash from Lazarenko’s assistant. A further USD 3.2mn was later transferred to their accounts from companies controlled by Tymoshenko.
How investigators intended to prove that it was indeed Tymoshenko who paid for the assassination was still unknown when this article went to print. The payment documents did not specify a designation for the funds. In theory, prosecutors could have two witnesses in the case. One is Vadim Bolotskikh, a Russian citizen who shot the Shcherban couple and is serving life in prison, and Petro Kyrychenko, Lazarenko’s right-hand man. The latter had previously cooperated with US law enforcement agencies, revealing the scheme Lazarenko used to receive kickbacks from YeESU in the money laundering case. For this, Kyrychenko ended up with US citizenship and was given protection under the Federal Witness Protection Programme. He had property, including an apartment in Kyiv that was seized. Informed sources claim that the Ukrainian special service blackmailed Kyrychenko to get evidence from him in August 2011: information was circulated that the apartment was no longer seized, but when his wife flew to Kyiv to sell it, she was arrested for attempting to sell seized property. In November 2011, Kyrychenko gave evidence by phone. Among other things, he said that the money given to O. Milchenko for the assassination came from Tymoshenko. However, no evidence has been disclosed to prove that she knew what the money was used for.
According to the Prosecutor General Pshonka, the murder of Shcherban is considered to be part of the YeESU case. The trial on the latter has not started yet as sessions are constantly postponed, since ill health prevents Tymoshenko from being present in court.
On 18 January, Pshonka said that the new charges may result in a life sentence for Tymoshenko, although it is the court that will specify the term. The investigation involving Tymoshenko was scheduled to begin on 24 January, but didn’t. According to her lawyers and family, the critical state of her health does not permit it. After a visit to the hospital where her mother has been since April 2012, Yevheniya said that the ex-premier had lost weight and currently weights 47 kg, while her body temperature is 35ºC. Yevhenia Tymoshenko made public an open letter, calling on Ukrainian authorities “not to kill” her mother in prison.