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KIEV, January 22 (Itar-Tass) — Ukrainian investigators said the conflict over the division of the natural gas market in the Donetsk region was the prime motive behind the murder in 1996 of businessman and lawmaker Yevgeny Shcherban. Former Cabinet officials Yulia Timoshenko and Pavel Lazarenko are suspected of involvement.
On Tuesday, the Kommersant Ukraina newspaper published extracts from the "Statement of Suspicion" passed to Yulia Timoshenko, leader of the Batkivshchina /Fatherland/ Party. The pre-requisites for the commission of the crime were actions by the then First Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko, according to the document.
He lobbied the government resolution that appointed one wholesale natural gas supply for each region, and committed all companies to purchase fuel from that company at the price it set. In the Dnepropetrovsk and Donetsk region, this supplier was Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine /UESU/ led by Yulia Timoshenko.
"The UESU president regularly transferred 50 percent of profit from the company's commercial activity to the bank accounts designated by Lazarenko for protection at the state level, lobbying and removing obstacles in the operation of the company," an investigator said.
Ukrainian prosecutors claim that Shcherban was one of such obstacles in the way of implementing this plan. He initiated the resolution by the Donetsk region governor which authorized the Donbass Industrial Union, Donetsk, not the UESU, to conclude such contracts. "This sparked conflicts between Lazarenko, Timoshenko and Shcherban, because "the companies the latter controlled flatly refused to work with the UESU on its conditions."
"Since Timoshenko and Lazarenko could be directly involved in the murder of Yegeny Shcherban, they decided to put out a contract to kill Shcherban with other persons; i.e. organize the murder," the Prosecutor General's Office /PGO/ said.
According to the investigators, the events then unfolded thus: in the first half of 1996, Lazarenko's aide Pyotr Kirichenko "without knowing the true intentions of Timoshenko and Lazarenko," organized Lazarenko's meeting at the Pushcha-Voditsa holiday center with Dneptropetrovsk's criminal leader Alexander Milchenko, alias Matros /"Sailor"/. The investigators said they had met several times in the beginning of 1996, and at one of such meetings, Lazarenko introduced Matros to Timoshenko.
"Timoshenko and Lazarenko, acting in collusion, ordered Milchenko to kill Yevgeny Shcherban, promising him to pay 3 million dollars and their assistance, at Milchenko's request, in the privatization of the Tsarichansky mineral water plant," according to the document.
To carry out the contract hit, Matros hired the gang which had operated in Ukraine since 1993. In 1995, it killed president of the Shakhtar football club Akhati Bragin. Lazarenko passed part of the money - 500,000 dollars -- through his aide who handed it over to Matros on November 4, 1996.
Timoshenko, "implementing the joint design with Lazarenko," remitted the money to Pyotr Kirichenko's accounts, who, in turn, had to transfer it to the accounts of Milchenko and leaders of the gang. There were nine such transfers in all. The largest part of the money was transferred in May 1997. The total sum for the murder of Yevgeny Shcherban reached 2.82 million dollars.
On January 18, the PGO informed Timoshenko that she was a suspect in the Shcherban murder case.
According to the prosecutor general, "she /Timoshenko/ might be sentenced to life imprisonment under this article." "The pre-trial materials gathered by the investigators show that Timoshenko had indeed made a contract together with Lazarenko to kill Shcherban."
Ukrainian lawmaker Yevgeny Shcherban was gunned down at the Donetsk airport after his arrival from Moscow on November 3, 1996. The criminals escaped in a car. Timoshenko and Lazarenko denied their involvement in the murder.
Also, a criminal case was opened against Timoshenko about financial abuse at Unified Energy Systems of Ukraine /UESU/ she headed in the second half of 1990s.
Timoshenko is serving a 7-year sentence at the Kachanovskaya penitentiary in the town of Kharkov, for exceeding her authority when signing the gas agreement with Russia in 2009. She has been in a Kharkov hospital for more than eight months.