Yulia Tymoshenko could face murder charges at any moment

Prosecution of Ukrainian opposition leader over 1996 murder of businessman to proceed when she is healthy enough

The jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko will face murder charges as soon as she is healthy enough to be questioned, a senior Ukrainian prosecutor has told The Independent.

Any decision to press ahead with the controversial prosecution – which centres on the murky gangland murder of a businessman 17 years ago – is likely to place Kiev on a collision course with the European Union and the United States, which already take the view that Ms Tymoshenko was wrongfully imprisoned in 2011 following a previous trial.

Renat Kuzmin, the First Deputy Prosecutor General, said the case file accusing Ms Tymoshenko of ordering and financing the assassination of Yevhen Shcherban was now ready to be passed to the court.

“The only thing we are waiting for is the doctor’s decision on when Yulia Tymoshenko is in a good enough condition to participate in the investigation actions as well as be interviewed by the prosecutor in this case,” he told The Independent during a visit this week to London.

“I presume everything will happen quite quickly. It will depend on her health condition.”

Ukraine’s former Prime Minister, who became the pro-European face of the Orange Revolution only to end up behind bars when her arch-rival President Viktor Yanukovych returned to power, is currently under guard at a hospital in Kiev where she is being treated for back and “psychological” problems.

She is 18 months into a seven-year sentence following charges that she “abused her office” when she struck a deal with Russia over gas prices that critics said forced Ukraine to pay far too much. 

Last month the ministry of health claimed she was well enough to return to prison, raising the prospect of the murder case proceeding at any time.

Ms Tymoshenko has always strenuously denied any involvement in the murder of Mr Shcherban, a businessman and underworld figure who was gunned down by men wearing military fatigues on 3 November 1996 as he stepped off his private jet in the city of Donetsk. 

At the time, the sprawling industrial town was the violent epicentre of competing factions over the highly lucrative natural gas trade and murders were common. Both Yulia Tymoshenko and President Yanukovych cut their political and business teeth in the region during that period.

Mr Kuzmin insists his office has enough evidence to charge Ms Tymoshenko who – in a vivid illustration of Ukraine’s complex politics – is accused alongside Pavlo Lazarenko, another former Prime Minister who was convicted in 2006 in the United States on money laundering charges.

“We have testimonies from different people and these people directly call Yulia Tymoshenko and Pavlo  Lazarenko the organisers of this assassination,” he said.

“We also traced the money transfers and we also established that the money in the killer’s bank accounts was transferred from bank accounts of companies which belonged to Yulia Tymoshenko and Pavlo Lazarenko.”

But Ms Tymoshenko’s legal team have alleged foul play, questioning the convenient timing of the allegations for President Yanukovych and the fact that her name was only linked to Mr Shcherban’s murder in 2011, 15 years after he was killed and eight years after some of his killers were convicted.

“It’s a totally politically motivated case,” Serhiy Vlasenko, Ms Tymoshenko’s lawyer, said via phone from Kiev.

Comparing Ms Tymoshenko’s plight to that of the veteran Ukrainian dissident Vyacheslav Chornovil, who faced spurious rape charges in the 1980s when he spoke out against the Soviet Union, he said: “It’s a propaganda show. The Ukrainian government failed to get away with their falsified gas case against Ms Tymoshenko when the European Union and everyone else said it was clearly politically motivated. So instead they have opened up this new case against her.”

He added: “The evidence they have is hearsay. It’s not just hearsay, it’s hearsay once or twice removed. What they have is people saying I heard something from someone who heard that Yulia Tymoshenko was involved. It’s ridiculous. That’s not evidence; it’s nothing.”

Ukraine’s prosecutors insist the case is a run-of-the-mill criminal charge and Mr Kuzmin denies being under any political pressure to pursue the murder charges.

“Ukraine doesn’t have political cases or political prosecutions,” he said. “The case we are talking about is an ordinary criminal violation case which involves the murder and assassination of a person.”

But Ms Tymoshenko’s supporters believe President Viktor Yanukovych is trying to frame the country’s most prominent opposition politician to take his political rival out of the picture once and for all.

And they have little faith that Ukraine’s judiciary – which is currently going through a series of reforms demanded by the EU – will have any chance of getting to the truth.

“Here we have no independent judiciary and it’s a big problem,” said Mr Vlasenko. “Judges are so dependent on the President’s office. Prosecutors could claim Yulia Tymoshenko personally crucified Jesus Christ and they’d say, ‘Yes, she’s guilty’.”

Tymoshenko: The Political Years

March 1996 Becomes an MP

November 1996 Yevhen Shcherban is murdered as he steps off his private jet in the city of Donetsk.

Nov 2004 With Viktor Yushchenko, leads Orange Revolution, overturning rival Viktor Yanukovych’s rigged presidential win

Jan 2005 Becomes PM

Dec 2007 Returns as PM and agrees controversial 10-year gas deal with Russia in 2009

Feb 2010 Loses presidential election to Yanukovych

Dec 2010 Charged with misusing state funds

Oct 2011 Ukrainian prosecutors begin investigating whether Tymoshenko was involved in the murder of Yevhen Shcherban

Oct 2011 Jailed for seven years for misuse of funds

PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Life and Style
techCould new invention save millions in healthcare bills?
Sport
David Moyes gets soaked
sport Moyes becomes latest manager to take part in the ALS challenge
Voices
A meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid Meteor Shower at a wind farm near Bogdanci, south of Skopje, Macedonia, in the early hours of 13 August
voicesHagel and Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise, says Robert Fisk
News
peopleEnglishman managed quintessential Hollywood restaurant Chasen's
Life and Style
food + drinkHarrods launches gourmet food qualification for staff
Arts and Entertainment
Michael Flatley prepares to bid farewell to the West End stage
danceMichael Flatley hits West End for last time alongside Team GB World champion Alice Upcott
Life and Style
Horst P Horst mid-fashion shoot in New York, 1949
fashionFar-reaching retrospective to celebrate Horst P Horst's six decades of creativity
News
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
i100
Life and Style
Black Ivory Coffee is made using beans plucked from elephants' waste after ingested by the animals
food + drinkFirm says it has created the "rarest" coffee in the world
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie T plays live in 2007 before going on hiatus from 2010
arts + entsSinger-songwriter will perform on the Festival Republic Stage
Life and Style
food + drinkThese simple recipes will have you refreshed within minutes
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Developer (TSQL, SSRS, SSAS) Fund Manager - London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Harrington Starr: SQL Developer (TSQL, S...

Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, Angular.JS)

Negotiable: Harrington Starr: Software Developer (JavaScript, TDD, Jasmine, An...

Front-End UI/UX Developer (HTML5, CSS, JavaScript, jQuery, Ang

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Front-End UI/U...

C#.NET Server Side Developer (C#, XML, WCF, Unit Testing,SQL)

£30000 - £40000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: C#.NET ...

Day In a Page

All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Robert Fisk: All this talk of an ‘apocalyptic’ threat is simply childish

Chuck Hagel and Martin Dempsey were pure Hollywood. They only needed Tom Cruise
Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

Mafia Dons: is the Camorra in control of the Granite City?

So claims an EU report which points to the Italian Mob’s alleged grip on everything from public works to property
Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Emmys look set to overhaul the Oscars as Hollywood’s prize draw

Once the poor relation, the awards show now has the top stars and boasts the best drama
What happens to African migrants once they land in Italy during the summer?

What happens to migrants once they land in Italy?

Memphis Barker follows their trail through southern Europe
French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

French connection: After 1,300 years, there’s a bridge to Mont Saint-Michel

The ugly causeway is being dismantled, an elegant connection erected in its place. So everyone’s happy, right?
Frank Mugisha: Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked

Frank Mugisha: 'Coming out was a gradual process '

Uganda's most outspoken gay rights activist on changing people's attitudes, coming out, and the threat of being attacked
Radio 1 to hire 'YouTube-famous' vloggers to broadcast online

Radio 1’s new top ten

The ‘vloggers’ signed up to find twentysomething audience
David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

David Abraham: Big ideas for the small screen

A blistering attack on US influence on British television has lifted the savvy head of Channel 4 out of the shadows
Florence Knight's perfect picnic: Make the most of summer's last Bank Holiday weekend

Florence Knight's perfect picnic

Polpetto's head chef shares her favourite recipes from Iced Earl Grey tea to baked peaches, mascarpone & brown sugar meringues...
Horst P Horst: The fashion photography genius who inspired Madonna comes to the V&A

Horst P Horst comes to the V&A

The London's museum has delved into its archives to stage a far-reaching retrospective celebrating the photographer's six decades of creativity
Mark Hix recipes: Try our chef's summery soups for a real seasonal refresher

Mark Hix's summery soups

Soup isn’t just about comforting broths and steaming hot bowls...
Tim Sherwood column: 'It started as a three-horse race but turned into the Grand National'

Tim Sherwood column

I would have taken the Crystal Palace job if I’d been offered it soon after my interview... but the whole process dragged on so I had to pull out
Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard: Young, gifted... not yet perfect

Eden Hazard admits he is still below the level of Ronaldo and Messi but, after a breakthrough season, is ready to thrill Chelsea’s fans
Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

Tim Howard: I’m an old dog. I don’t get too excited

The Everton and US goalkeeper was such a star at the World Cup that the President phoned to congratulate him... not that he knows what the fuss is all about
Match of the Day at 50: Show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition

Tom Peck on Match of the Day at 50

The show reminds us that even the most revered BBC institution may have a finite lifespan – thanks to the opposition