|Yulia Tymoshenko, 51, is serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of abuse of office [Reuters]|
Yulia Tymoshenko, Ukraine’s jailed former prime minister, is now facing accusations of having paid for the contract killing of a politician and two others in 1996.
Renat Kuzmin, a deputy prosecutor, said companies controlled by Tymoshenko and Pavlo Lazarenko, another ex-prime minister, had transferred money to pay the killers of Yevhen Shcherban, who was shot to death at an airport with his wife and an aide.
“We have reliable information that the same accounts that Tymoshenko used to purchase jewellery and expensive items, were used to pay money to the killers’ accounts for the murder,” Kuzmin said.
Tymoshenko, 51, is serving a seven-year sentence after being convicted of abuse of office in negotiating a natural gas contract with Russia in 2009.
“Cheap PR agency who just spread the rumours and who is not working with juridical facts.”
– Tymoshenko’s lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko
Lazarenko is serving a nine-year sentence in the United States on charges of extortion and corruption.
Tymoshenko’s lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko dismissed Kuzmin’s statement as untrue, calling it an attempt to further tarnish her image among Ukrainians.
He described the prosecutor general’s office as a “cheap PR agency who just spread the rumours and who is not working with juridical facts.”
Tymoshenko has accused President Viktor Yanukovych of orchestrating her imprisonment to prevent her from running in parliamentary elections later this year.
She had lost to Yanukovych in the 2010 presidential election.
Kuzmin said prosecutors were studying the case to determine whether to formally implicate Tymoshenko in the murder, but to do this they needed to question Lazarenko, currently held in a California jail.
He expressed frustration that US authorities had refused their requests to do that for more than a year.
Tymoshenko was found guilty of overstepping her authority during a tense pricing dispute with Moscow in January 2009.
The dispute led to energy disruptions across Europe after Russia halted gas deliveries to Ukraine, through which Europe gets most of its Russian supplies.
In convicting Tymoshenko in October, the court sided with prosecutors who argued that she was not formally allowed to order the signing of the gas contract, which significantly raised the price Ukraine pays for gas and was judged burdensome for the economy.
The West has condemned Tymoshenko’s trial and sentence as politically motivated, and the European Union has halted the implementation of a key partnership agreement with Kiev over the case.
Kuzmin dismissed Western criticism of the case, saying officials in the United States and the European Union did not understand the specifics.