war crimes in Ukraine

The Tribunal for Putin (T4P) global initiative was set up in response to the all-out war launched by Russia against Ukraine in February 2022.

Let’s see if this one sticks?

Halya Coynash
Murder charges against imprisoned former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko are likely to be viewed with the same scepticism in the West as previous prosecutions. But then western TV channels aren’t so very helpful in covering such stories

Victor Pshonka, Prosecutor General

Many Ukrainian politicians have been suspected of using means far less fair than foul to amass power and wealth, and rumours that such methods have included hiring killers abound.  That said, there seems little if any likelihood that the West will find the latest accusations made against former Prime Minister and opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko any less politically motivated than her 7-year sentence over the 2009 gas accords with Russia and new trial on tax evasion charges. 

Ukraine’s Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka on Friday accused Tymoshenko of ordering the killing 16 years ago of Yevhen Shcherban.  That’s four years earlier than the murder of journalist Georgy Gongadze, where the finger was pointed, with apparently serious grounds, in one direction from the outset and all to no avail.  Those who ordered the journalist’s murder remain at liberty – unlike Yulia Tymoshenko.  

Pshonka now claims, he has evidence able to convict Tymoshenko of paying 2.8 million USD to get Shcherban murdered.

Western observers may well recall the evidence on a website created after Yevhenia Tymoshenko’s email accounts were hacked. This included an astronomical “bill” from the Berlin Charite Clinic treating Yulia Tymoshenko which a Die Zeit journalist has said would be identified as a fake by any person who has been to the doctor in Germany.  Pshonka does not specify what the evidence is, or why it has apparently only come to light in the last year.  More than 15 years was surely long enough to destroy incriminating evidence not discovered at the time.  Western media reports mention that the slain man’s son, Ruslan Shcherban, came forward last year with evidence implicating Tymoshenko.  What the evidence is, or in fact could be, has never been revealed, nor did Reuters mention other interesting details.  Ruslan Shcherban, now a Party of the Regions Deputy of the Donetsk Regional Council gave a press conference in April 2012 shortly after Deputy Prosecutor General Kuzmin publically stated that Tymoshenko was involved in the murder.  The two events were supposedly unrelated.  Shcherban Junior claims that he was frightened to speak out earlier but now wants to know who committed the crime.  He has also not specified what his evidence is, but he felt strongly enough to write to the US Ambassador asking the US to not block the Ukrainian law enforcement bodies.  Over recent months, Kuzmin has effectively suggested that the American authorities are working against the Ukrainian investigators, and that is the nicest way of putting his rather disturbing insinuations.

No charges have yet been laid, but if they were to be, they carry a life sentence.  It was not only the charge against Yulia Tymoshenko that aroused concern in 2011, but the very many irregularities in the circumstances behind her detention and the trial itself.  In both the first cases brought before the European Court of Human Rights by Tymoshenko’s lawyers, and those representing imprisoned Interior Minister Yury Lutsenko, the Court has seen the need to hold public hearings.  In Lutsenko’s case, serious violations were found.  The judgment in Tymoshenko’s case is expected in the near future. If those pulling the Prosecutor’s strings seriously believe that such statements will discredit the former Prime Minister and therefore cushion the likely blows from Strasbourg as well as harsh words at the EU-Ukraine Summit on 25 February, they are seriously mistaken.  Not, of course, for the first time.

Another audience

Within days of the international condemnation of Tymoshenko’s 7-year sentence in 2011, the State-owned UTV-1 was full of one-sided reports about the former Prime Minister’s alleged economic crimes and their cost to the Ukrainian public.  These turned into actual charges however hearings in the case have been consistently deferred in connection with Ms Tymoshenko’s health. 

The same form of coverage was given to Pshonka’s accusations, as well as to the general bouquet of different charges at the beginning of the Friday evening news on UTV-1.   The headline calls Tymoshenko and Lazarenko the “main suspects” in the murder of Shcherban, however Pshonka himself – and his is the only voice heard – clearly has no time for the presumption of innocence.  

“First, Lazarenko personally paid the gang 500 thousand dollars after the murder, 500 thousand dollars. And then 2 million 300 thousand dollars was transferred. And all the transfer was organized by Tymoshenko”.

Forgive the tasteless comparison, but the prices bandied about for hiring a killer in Russia at that time were on a different - vastly smaller - scale altogether .  

The figures, however, would certainly blow the minds of TV viewers.  No attempt, incidentally, was made to inform the large number of viewers who will have forgotten or never known that the murder in question took place in 1996.

Lest those viewers not understand how the figures touch their own pockets, the next news item informs that “the Prosecutor General’s Office has merged the Shcherban Case with another - that regarding the United Energy Systems of Ukraine Corporation case”.  In the latter Tymoshenko stands charged with concealing foreign currency profit and tax evasion.  That merging them is pure nonsense from a legal point of view is a mere detail – for the task in hand it makes perfect sense. We learn that Ukraine has repaid 15 million UAH, and that the Russian Defence Ministry is demanding the return of over 400 million dollars owed them by the United Energy Systems of Ukraine from the days when it was under Yulia Tymoshenko’s control.

Murder, embezzlement, tax evasion, what next?!

Perhaps those in power really have advisers so extraordinarily incompetent that they believe such charges will wash with the West.  More likely they’re aimed at the audience at home.  Not that they’ll wash there either, but with so much mud hurled around, some will doubtless stick. 

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