KIEV, April 2 (Itar-Tass) – A top Ukrainian investigator said a witness in the case over the murder of lawmaker Yevgeny Shcherban in 1996 fully changed his testimony during the questioning at Kiev's Pechora district court on Tuesday.
"The present testimony by Sergei Taruta fully disagrees with the protocols he signed and his earlier testimony," Oleg Pushkar, deputy head of the main investigation department under the Ukrainian Prosecutor General's Office said.
Taruta is a co-owner of the Industrial Union of Donbass /ISD/ corporation. He stated he had no evidence of former Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko's involvement in the murder of lawmaker and businessman Yevgeny Shcherban in 1996.
When asked by Timoshenko's lawyers if he knew the facts that it was Timoshenko who masterminded Shcherban's murder, Taruta said "I don't know about it."
Also, he said he knew nothing about the payment of bills for the hit or Yulia Timoshenko's organizing the murder.
At a face-to-face questioning with former Donetsk region governor Vladimir Shcherban on February 12, Taruta confirmed a conflict between the UESU corporation led by Yulia Timoshenko at the time and the ISD headed by Yevgeny Shcherban in 1996.
The conflict broke out over supplies of natural gas to the Donetsk region between Pavel Lazarenko and Yulia Timoshenko on the one hand Yevgeny Shcherban and Vladimir Shcherban on the other.
On January 18, prosecutors informed Timoshenko that she was a suspect in the Shcherban murder case. Investigators said the conflict over the division of the natural gas market in the Donetsk region was the prime motive behind the murder. Former prime minister Pavel Lazarenko is another suspect in the case. Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka said then Timoshenko was facing life imprisonment within the case.
First Deputy Prime Minister Pavel Lazarenko 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 Yevgeny Shcherban, they decided to put out a contract to kill Shcherban with other persons," the Prosecutor General's Office /PGO/ said.
According to the investigators, the events 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.
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 criminals 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.
Lazarenko spent more than a decade in U.S. prison for financial fraud. He was set free on November 1, 2012. He had been accused of money laundering. Lazarenko asked San Francisco immigration authorities to grant him a temporary resident visa.