KIEV, Jan. 22 - Jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on Tuesday denied she was behind the murder of a politician and businessman in 1996, and instead tried to link President Viktor Yanukovych to the case.
This was Tymoshenko’s first direct response to the shocking allegations officially made by the prosecutor general on Friday that she had been involved in the murder of Yevhen Shcherban.
The case has been increasingly becoming a development that has the capacity to shake up domestic political landscape and perhaps even to change the country’s foreign policy course.
The United States on Tuesday sent a message of support to Tymoshenko, suggesting the new charges are seen as a political campaign against the Ukrainian opposition leader.
Tymoshenko denied the charges, calling them "hysteria.”
"I can state clearly and unambiguously that I have nothing to do with the tragic murder of Yevgen Shcherban in 1996, and this will be proven in international courts and in the courts of other countries," Tymoshenko said in a statement read to journalists by her lawyer Serhiy Vlasenko.
"These loud accusations are (President Viktor) Yanukovych's agony and hysteria," Tymoshenko added, referring to the murder charge.
Ukrainian prosecutors on Friday accused Tymoshenko of organizing the 1996 murder of Shcherban and warned that a guilty verdict could land the opposition leader behind bars for life.
The murder case against Tymoshenko and former prime minister Pavlo Lazarenko -- a close ally who was convicted and jailed for money laundering in the United States in 2006 -- states that the two paid $2.8 million to a contract killer to eliminate Shcherban.
The case is the third against Tymoshenko, who is currently serving a seven-year prison term after a controversial conviction in 2011 for abuse of power.
Tymoshenko on Tuesday attacked Yanukovych by suggesting that he and his political and business allies have benefitted from the murder of Shcherban in 1996.
Yanukovych was shortly after the murder promoted to the post of the governor of the Donetsk region, Tymoshenko said. She also said Shcherban’s assets, “estimated in billions of dollars,” were later “transferred to Yanukovych and Rinat Akhmetov.”
Tymoshenko also said that Viktor Pshonka, now the prosecutor general, and Renat Kuzmin, a deputy prosecutor general who are believed to push the cases against Tymoshenko, both worked in the Donetsk region at the time when leaders of a gang that is behind the Shcherban murder had been killed in a Donetsk jail.
“So, what does my name have to do with the murder of Yevhen Shcherban?” Tymoshenko said.
"Today Viktor Yanukovych decided to put all of their crimes committed in the 90's on me - his main political opponent - and try to keep me in prison for life, and maybe try to deprive me of my life in prison, as he did in the 90s. But we will not let him do it."
Meanwhile, in a letter to Tymoshenko, text of which was released by her party Batkivshchyna, outgoing U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she was following Tymoshenko's plight with great concern.
"I ... want to reaffirm that the United States supports your immediate release. I hope the New Year brings new prospects for your release and wish you a return to good health," the letter, which was passed on to Tymoshenko via the U.S. embassy, said. (tl/ez)