EU fails to free Ukraine’s most famous criminal

The truth about Yulia Tymoshenko

As the EU summit of “Eastern Partnership” in Vilnius approaches, the European Union stepped up its pressure on the Ukrainian government. German chancellor Angela Merkel demanded once again the release of former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison and urged Kiev to take “credible steps” to overcome politically motivated “selective justice”. The Yanukovych-led government wanted to sign an Association Agreement with the European Union but Brussels set several conditions. In addition to Tymoshenko’s release and judicial reform, Ukraine’s electoral legislation had to be changed. [1] Apparently, there is some unease in the West about the latest election results in Ukraine. So changing the electoral legislation could be a solution if Brussels and Washington do not want to rely on the Central Intelligence Agency, Otpor! And the like every time to “guide” the democratic process. As we recall, this strategy worked well after the presidential election 2004 when the Orange Revolution paved the way for Freedom House-sponsored Viktor Yushchenko and Yulia Tymoshenko.

Since this successful color revolution Tymoshenko has been hailed as a force for freedom and democracy by Western politicians and mainstream media. But a closer examination of the “gas princess” reveals that nothing could be further from the truth and that the notion of Tymoshenko being a political prisoner is downright ridiculous.

The favorite oligarch of the West is currently imprisoned because she signed a natural gas imports contract with Russia to the detriment of Ukraine in her position as Prime Minister in January 2009. She was charged with abuse of power and sentenced to seven years in jail in October 2011. Tymoshenko’s supporters constantly emphasize that she was charged and sentenced under her political enemy, incumbent President Viktor Yanukovych, who is considered as too close to Moscow. However, the investigation had been launched at the behest of her former ally, Yanukovych’s predecessor Yushchenko.[2]

As early as 2005, the relations between the two leaders of the Orange Revolution had deteriorated. Yushchenko accused Tymoshenko of serving the interests of some businesses and of using her post to erase 1.5 billion dollars in taxes owed by her former firm.[3] Therefore he dismissed the Tymoshenko-led government on September 8, 2005.

The two have been political rivals ever since but formed occasionally an alliance of convenience.  Yushchenko was still in power when Tymoshenko became again Prime Minister after the 2007 Ukrainian parliamentary election. One year later they had another major dispute resulting in the 2008 Ukrainian political crisis and when Tymoshenko signed the gas deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2009 without informing her cabinet, Yushchenko was fed up with her and called for prosecution.  

Investigators concluded that Ukraine suffered losses of 310 million euros due to Tymoshenko’s ten-year deal.[4] In the meantime, Yushchenko had been punished by the Ukrainian people, among other things, for endorsing Georgian President Saakashvili during the 2008 South Ossetia war and his efforts to lead Ukraine into NATO. He gained only 5.45% of the vote and was succeeded by Viktor Yanukovych who beat Yulia Tymoshenko in the second round of the presidential election in February 2010.

Shortly thereafter, a vote of no confidence forced Tymoshenko out of government [5] and in May 2010 Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office re-opened a 2004 criminal case on accusations she had tried to bribe Supreme Court judges.[6] This case like several other investigations against the “gas princess” had been scrapped in early 2005, immediately after Tymoshenko’s rise to power thanks to the Orange Revolution.[7]

Her supporters in politics and media casually ignore or dismiss the extensive criminal history of Ukraine’s most famous “political prisoner”. In December 2010 another criminal case against Tymoshenko was instituted after the Ukrainian authorities were tipped off by American law firms that half a billion dollars of public funds had been misappropriated under her guidance between 2008 and 2010. Three of Tymoshenko’s confidants were imprisoned and the former economy minister Bogdan Danilischin fled to the Czech Republic where he was granted political asylum.[8] The EU member state also granted asylum to Yulia Tymoshenko’s husband Oleksandr in January 2012.[9]

Before Tymoshenko was sentenced for her controversial gas deal in October 2011, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) re-opened another criminal case which had been scrapped in 2005. Between 1995 and 1997 during her time as head of Ukraine’s then largest natural gas importer, United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU), the “gas princess” allegedly embezzled 405.5 million dollars in cooperation with Pavlo Lazarenko, who was Ukrainian Prime Minister at the time.[10] Lazarenko plays also a central role in the latest and most interesting criminal case against Tymoshenko, the 1996 murder of Ukrainian oligarch Yevhen Shcherban.[11]

On November 3, 1996 four people were assassinated by men posing as police officers at Donetsk Airport including Yevhen Shcherban and his wife.[12] Shcherban led a group of powerful businessmen in Donetsk who were opposed to the business practices of Pavlo Lazarenko and his associates from Dnipropetrovsk. The Dnipropetrovsk clan included Lazarenko’s protégé Yulia Tymoshenko, then President Leonid Kuchma and then Attorney General Borsinow. Lazarenko was Prime Minister and Tymoshenko head of UESU when the Dnipropetrovsk clan made a fortune by buying cheap gas from Russia and selling it via intermediaries for three times the price in Ukraine. Corporations in eastern Ukraine, which were the main customers, refused to pay the now demanded 83 dollars per unit instead of the old price of 25 dollars. Shcherban, Momot and Schwedchenko from Donetsk led the resistance. After the three men were all killed, nobody else dared to challenge the Dnipropetrovsk clan and corporations paid the prices demanded by Tymoshenko’s United Energy Systems of Ukraine.[13]

But in 1997 Lazarenko had fallen out of favor with Kuchma who pressured him to resign. Investigations against Lazarenko and Tymoshenko were started and brought a vast number of shady dealings to light. But when criminal proceedings were instituted, the “gas princess” enjoyed immunity because she had officially left UESU for the Ukrainian parliament, a common practice in Ukraine to escape criminal prosecution, and Lazarenko fled the country with a private jet of UESU. Tymoshenko’s mentor was detained in Switzerland on money-laundering charges and after being released on bail he ended up in the United States. Meanwhile, Lazarenko’s immunity had been finally revoked by the Ukrainian parliament. So his request for political asylum was denied and he was detained when he tried to enter the U.S. in possession of nine passports from nine different countries but without a valid visa.[14]

During his trial more details about the Lazarenko-Tymoshenko network and its criminal activities were revealed. United Energy International, an 85% shareholder of UESU created in London at the direction of Yulia Tymoshenko, and Somolli Enterprises, a Cypriot company controlled by Yulia and Oleksandr Tymoshenko, played a vital role in facilitating all kinds of fraud and crimes.[15] Furthermore, Petro Kiritchenko, Lazarenko’s former associate who testified against him, told American investigators that Lazarenko had ordered the murder of Yevhen Shcherban and Tymoshenko had contributed the money.[16]   

Ukrainian investigators corroborate this and point to transactions in May and September 1997 when altogether three million dollars originating from bank accounts of United Energy International and Somolli Enterprises were transferred to Yevhen Kushnir, the head of the so-called Kushnir gang.[17] In addition to the assassination of Yevhen Shcherban, the Kushnir gang wasinvolved in 25 murders and assassination attempts.[18] Since at least 1994, Yulia Tymoshenko knew Yevhen Kushnir and met with him regularly.[19] According to prosecutors, the Kushnir gang worked for Lazarenko and Tymoshenko but there is not enough evidence to charge her with murders other than Shcherban’s.

However, if the “gas princess” will be ever charged with this assassination, is highly doubtful. Because of Tymoshenko’s state of health, Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s Office delayed a possible trial so far and last month President Viktor Yanukovych sacked the man who led efforts to hold Tymoshenko accountable, First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin. Kuzmin’s dismissal was seen as concession to the West during negotiations with Brussels about the European Union Association Agreement.[20]

Under Mikola Obichod, one of Kuzmin’s predecessors who led investigations into the Lazarenko-Tymoshenko network between 1997 and 2002, Ukraine’s General Prosecutor’s office had built a case consisting of over 8000 files with documents as early as July 2002, just to see the investigation eventually cancelled.[21] So far the two oligarchs from Dnipropetrovsk have managed to escape justice for the most part.

Lazarenko was sentenced to nine years in prison for money-laundering, corruption and fraud in the United States. After serving six years he was released last year. While Lazarenko’s sentence did not prompt any outrage from the “international community”, similar charges against his protégé were heavily criticized. Political leaders of the Czech Republic, favorite shelter for Tymoshenko’s associates, as well as CIA darling Dalai Lama condemned the trial as “politically motivated” [22] and in Angela Merkel’s opinion the conviction of Tymoshenko proved that Ukraine is a dictatorship.[23]

If it was Brussels’ call, Tymoshenko’s time behind bars would be over immediately. But the persistent attempts to blackmail the Ukrainian government with the desired EU pact in order to free the “gas princess” backfired spectacularly. Instead of caving in to the ridiculous demands, Kiev surprisingly announced the suspension of preparations to sign the Association Agreement and the renewal of talks with Russia on joining the Moscow-led Customs Union.[24]

Maybe the corrupt politicians in Brussels will learn a lesson from this and think twice the next time they try to free one of their own.

# # # #

Christoph Germann- BFP Contributing Author & Analyst Christoph Germann is an independent analyst and researcher based in Germany, where he is currently studying political science. His work focuses on the New Great Game in Central Asia and the Caucasus region. You can visit his website here

[1] Raf Casert, “German Chancellor Angela Merkel leads EU calls for Ukraine to reform its justice system,” Associated Press, 18 November 2013: http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/europe/german-chancellor-angela-merkel-leads-eu-calls-on-ukraine-to-reform-justice-system/2013/11/18/902bbfac-5061-11e3-9ee6-2580086d8254_story.html.

[2] Frank Schumann, Die Gauklerin – Der Fall Timoschenko (Berlin: Das Neue Berlin, 2012) p. 234.

[3] Alex Rodriguez, “In Ukraine, old whiff of scandal in new regime,” Chicago Tribune, 27 September 2005: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2005-09-27/news/0509270090_1_petro-poroshenko-privatization-ukrainians.

[4] Ibid., Schumann p. 57.

[5] “MPs desert defeated Ukraine candidate Yulia Tymoshenko,” BBC, 21 September 2010: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-11381367.

[6] “Update: Old bribe case re-opened against Tymoshenko,” Kyiv Post, 12 May 2010: http://www.kyivpost.com/content/politics/update-old-bribe-case-re-opened-against-tymoshenko-66478.html.

[7] Ibid., Schumann pp. 225-226.

[8] Ibid., Schumann p. 54.

[9] Roman Goncharenko and Markian Ostaptschuk, “Timoschenkos Mann erhält Asyl in Prag,” Deutsche Welle, 12 January 2012: http://www.dw.de/timoschenkos-mann-erh%C3%A4lt-asyl-in-prag/a-6696905.

[10] Ibid., Schumann p. 60.

[11] Benjamin Bidder, “Ukrainian Power Struggle: Tymoshenko Threatened with Life in Prison,” Der Spiegel, 21 February 2013: http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/ukraine-prepares-trial-against-yulia-tymoshenko-on-murder-charges-a-884812.html.

[12] Yuriy Onyshkiv, “Taylor: Firtash blames notorious 1996 murder on ex-premier Lazarenko,” Kyiv Post, 3 December 2010: http://www.kyivpost.com/content/ukraine/taylor-firtash-blames-notorious-1996-murder-on-ex–91987.html.

[13] Ibid., Schumann p. 64.

[14] Ibid., Schumann pp. 214-219.

[15] United States v. Pavel Lazarenko, No. CR 00-0284 (MJJ), 30 January 2004: http://de.scribd.com/doc/82883652/UNITED-STATES-OF-AMERICA-vs-PAVEL-LAZARENKO.

[16] Ibid., Schumann p. 90.

[17] Ibid., Schumann pp. 93-96.

[18] “Timoshenko knows personally Kushnir gang ringleaders,” ITAR-TASS News Agency, 18 June 2013: http://en.itar-tass.com/old-all-news/677416.

[19] “Witness: Tymoshenko met with leaders of Kushnir-Riabin gang who organized Scherban’s murder,” Interfax-Ukraine News Agency, 14 February 2013: http://en.interfax.com.ua/news/general/140612.html.

[20] “Ukraine fires key Tymoshenko prosecutor,” AFP, 4 October 2013: http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/ukraine-tymoshenko.qr8.

[21] Ibid., Schumann p. 239.

[22] “Vaclav Havel and the Dalai Lama stood up for the Timoshenko,” newspepper.su, 1 September 2011: http://news-su.1gb.ru/news/2011/9/1/vaclav-havel-and-the-dalai-lama-stood-up-for-the-timoshenko/.

[23] “Merkel bezeichnet Ukraine als „Diktatur“,” Handelsblatt, 10 May 2012: http://www.handelsblatt.com/politik/deutschland/scharfe-kritik-merkel-bezeichnet-ukraine-als-diktatur/6616370.html.

[24] “Richard Balmforth and Pavel Polityuk, “UPDATE 3-Ukraine drops plan to go West, turns East,” Reuters, 21 November 2013: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/11/21/ukraine-eu-idUSL5N0J63AH20131121


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Comments

  1. Bla bla bla…

    Forrest and…Woods.

    every one against us All.

    . Alle Gegen Alle..

  2. Love me Not.

    Talking Heads..

  3. This is a good summary of Timoshenko’s criminal activities.Sources and links are also appreciated. One reason Western elites love Timoshenko is that they have so much dirt on her and appreciate her political skills of which Yushchenko, completely controlled by US, had none. The FBI had milked dry Timoshenko’s lover Lazarenko and has enough ‘kompromat’ to blackmail her well into afterlife. What should be kept in mind is that Ukraine is in the hands of several criminal organizations, with the Donetsk crime clan being presently in power. The assassination of Yevhen Shcherban and his associates took place one year after Kushnir’s liquidators had blown up Alec Grek, godfather of the Donetsk mob, who provided protection for Shcherban’s financial-industrial group. At that time Yanukovich was just the clan’s ‘soldier,’ an obscure middle-level local administrator.

  4. @netter: Thank you very much for the feedback and your insight into the matter. I really appreciated your comment regarding developments in Tajikistan in the 1990s. If you have any interesting links feel free to send them my way via Twitter or my blog.

  5. @Christoph: You are most welcome and thank you for dedicating so much of your time to keep working people like ourselves posted on all these developments in Eurasia.

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