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KIEV, February 14 (Itar-Tass) - Kiev's Pechora district court will question a witness in the case over the murder of lawmaker Yevgeny Shcherban, in the absence of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko.
"The court deems it possible to question a witness at the stage of pre-trial investigation in the absence of suspect Timoshenko," judge Oksana Tsarevich announced at a hearing on Wednesday.
The witness was identified as Igor Mariyenko, a resident of Donetsk. During the questioning, he said he had not known the ex-premier personally.
Timoshenko's defense petitioned to recuse Tsarevich but the judge refused to consider it, explaining that the law did not envision recusal at this stage of the proceedings.
Earlier in the day, special task force unit Berkut personnel forced out of the courtroom the Opposition lawmakers who had been trying to foil the questioning of Mariyenko.
On January 18, prosecutors informed Timoshenko that she was a suspect in the Shcherban murder case. 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 prime minister Pavel Lazarenko is another suspect in the case.
The pre-requisites for the commission of the crime were actions by the then First Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko, according to the prosecutors.
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 bulk of the money was transferred in May 1997. The total sum for the murder of Yevgeny Shcherban reached 2.82 million dollars.
Shcherban was gunned down at the Donetsk airport on November 3, 1996. The criminal fled the scene in a car. Shcherban, his wife, a mechanic and flight engineer died of gunshot wounds.
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 in the recent months.