Ukraine prosecutor accuses Tymoshenko of murder

Fri Jan 18, 2013 1:49pm EST
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By Richard Balmforth

KIEV (Reuters) - Ukraine's chief prosecutor accused jailed opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko of ordering the killing of a business rival 16 years ago, dealing a new blow to the ex-prime minister who the West says is the victim of a political vendetta.

The announcement came on Friday after a court adjourned a second trial against Tymoshenko for tax evasion and her defense counsel warned her health had declined to a "critical" level.

Tymoshenko is already serving a seven-year jail sentence for abuse of office, meted out in October 2011.

She and Western governments say she is the victim of a witch-hunt by the leadership of President Viktor Yanukovich who narrowly beat her in a run-off for the presidency in February 2010.

Political enemies of the 52-year-old politician have indicated for a year that an additional case was building against her over the killing of Yevhen Shcherban, a deputy and businessman who died in a hail of bullets in 1996 as he stepped from a plane.

But the announcement by state prosecutor Viktor Pshonka that Tymoshenko, a powerful gas trader in the 1990s, had conspired with a former prime minister, Pavlo Lazarenko, in ordering a $2.8 million "hit" against Shcherban came as a surprise.

If convicted she could face life imprisonment, Pshonka said in remarks carried by Interfax news agency.

"The material which has been assembled in the pre-trial investigation testifies to the fact that Tymoshenko indeed ordered the killing together with Lazarenko. Today investigators went to Tymoshenko to present her with the suspicions about the crime," said Pshonka, according to Interfax.   Continued...

Former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko shows what she claims an injury in the Kachanivska prison in Kharkiv, in this undated handout picture received by Reuters on April 27, 2012. REUTERS/Handout