Ukraine Prosecutors Say Tymoshenko May Face Murder Charge

Ukrainian prosecutors said jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko may face life imprisonment for murder, escalating a case that’s driven a wedge between the former Soviet republic and the European Union.

Tymoshenko, already serving a seven-year sentence, conspired with Pavlo Lazarenko, another former premier, to organize the 1996 assassination of lawmaker and businessman Evhen Shcherban, Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said in remarks broadcast today by TVI. Serhiy Vlasenko, a lawyer for Tymoshenko, said by phone that the accusation was “absurd.”

“Documents collected during pre-trial investigations show Tymoshenko and Lazarenko ordered the murder,” Pshonka said. “Investigators from the prosecutor general’s office visited Tymoshenko today to notify her.”

Tymoshenko says her 2011 conviction for abuse of office while premier was engineered by President Viktor Yanukovych to keep her out of last October’s parliamentary elections. The 27-member EU, which deems the verdict politically motivated, has halted a planned Association Agreement. An International Monetary Fund mission is due to arrive in Ukraine Jan. 29 to discuss a third bailout since 2008.

The hryvnia, which has declined 0.9 percent against the dollar this year, closed at 8.125, unchanged from yesterday. The yield on the government’s dollar bond due 2020 fell 28 basis points to 6.931, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Killing Christ

Tymoshenko had no reason to kill Shcherban, according to Vlasenko, who said the lawmaker’s assets were transferred to businessmen close to the president after his death.

“Tymoshenko wouldn’t have benefited from the murder,” he said today. “It’s absurd -- it’s the same as to accuse her of killing Jesus Christ.”

Tymoshenko, a leader of the Orange Revolution that helped overturn Yanukovych’s 2004 presidential win, paid $2.8 million together with Lazarenko for Shcherban’s murder, Pshonka said. The killing was carried out because Shcherban didn’t bow to pressure over natural gas prices from the energy company Tymoshenko headed, he said.

“Crimes carried out in various criminal cases were carried out with Tymoshenko’s participation,” Yanukovych said last June in an interview. “This isn’t a secret for the whole world -- this happened. Including Shcherban’s murder. There were motives.”

Tax Evasion

Tymoshenko also faces charges of tax evasion when she headed gas trader United Energy Systems in the 1990s, prosecutors have said. Lazarenko was sentenced to eight years in a U.S prison in 2008 and ordered to pay a $32 million fine for money laundering and conspiracy in connection with transactions he oversaw while in office.

A decision to charge Tymoshenko would be a “major escalation” in her case and would probably draw a response from Western governments, according to Tim Ash, head of emerging-market research at Standard Bank Plc in London.

“Western diplomats have argued that such action, which would be viewed as politically motivated, would risk sanctions being levied by Western governments against individual members of the Yanukovych administration,” he said by e-mail. “This could also complicate relations with international lenders as Ukraine moves to secure a new financing agreement with the IMF.”

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