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Police implicate, link Klitschko brothers, other opposition members to Chornovol beating suspects (UPDATE)

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Dec. 27, 2013, 4:44 p.m. | Ukraine — by Mark Rachkevych, Vlad Lavrov

Opposition lawmaker Vitali Klitschko (left) and his younger brother Wladimir Klitschko, a heavyweight boxing champion, were accused by police on Dec. 27 of having organized crime ties and to one of the five suspects being held in the Tetyana Chornovol beating case.
© Kostyantyn Chernichkin

Mark Rachkevych

Mark has been a reporter for the Kyiv Post since 2006, but joined full-time in 2009. A native Chicagoan where he was the co-founder of the now defunct Glasshouse Magazine, Mark currently is an editor of business news and still contributes stories on an ongoing basis. He is a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, a graduate of St. Norbert College in Wisconsin, and fluent in the Ukrainian and Russian languages.

Vlad Lavrov

Kyiv Post staff writer

The interior ministry’s chief investigator on Dec. 27 linked opposition lawmaker Vitali Klitschko, his younger brother, heavyweight champion boxer Wladimir Klitschko, as well as several other members of parliament and local lawmakers to the suspects who beat Tetyana Chornovol. 

Police currently have five suspects in custody, three of whom are believed to have been directly involved in the Dec. 25 beating of Chornovol.

Mykola Chynchyn, the head of the interior ministry’s investigation department, said that the Klitschko brothers were closely associated with the same organized crime syndicate of which one of the suspects, Oleksandr Kotenko, had allegedly been a member.

In a Dec. 27 statement, he said that Kotenko was a member of the Borys Savlokhov gang, which was part of the Viktor Rybalko organized crime group. The Klitschko brothers allegedly were closely involved in Rybalko’s organization, according to Chynchyn. Rybalko was killed in 2005.

Through his UDAR party website, Vitali Klitschko vehemently denied the link and said he will sue Chynchyn for slander, libel and defamation of character. He furthermore called the accusations deceitful and baseless.

"Instead of conducting an objective investigation and finding the real perpetrators of the crime, (including) those who gave the orders to beat Tetyana Chornovol, the office of (Interior Minister Vitaliy) Zakharchenko has resorted to the usual provocations and actually is covering up for the criminals,” stated Vitali Klitschko. “Thus, we will speak in court with those who were entrusted to voice lies and nonsense.”

The nation’s chief investigator also said that opposition lawmaker Mykola Kniazhytsky and David Zhvania, a member of parliament who quit the ruling Party of Regions after the  Nov. 30 police beatings of protesters, were connected to suspect Serhiy Kotenko, the 29-year-old younger brother of Oleksandr Kotenko.

Serhiy Kotenko was as of July the director of and 40 percent owner of a company that is the license holder of TVi, a television outlet that until April was known for its investigations of high-level corruption. In April a new group of owners took over the muckraking television channel, which for three months underwent a swirl of ownership changes.

Six months ago Serhiy Kotenko purchased the sports utility vehicle that was used to block the path of Chornovol’s car several times early on Dec. 25 from another suspect in custody, Oleksandr Khramtsov, according to police. Khramtsov told the police that he is still the registered owner because Serhiy Kotenko hasn’t paid him in full for the vehicle.

Kniazhytsky, a former general director of TVi before winning a parliamentary seat in October 2012, told the Kyiv Post that “our paths never crossed at TVi,” when asked to comment about Serhiy Kotenko. “I said the same thing to the police on Dec. 26, therefore I’m surprised the police said this in a statement today.”

Zhvania told the Kyiv Post in a telephone conversation that he doesn't know who Serhiy Kotenko is, and has no affiliation with the owners of TVi.

Chynchyn also accused opposition lawmaker Volodymyr Polochaninov of the Batkivshchyna party for having ties to Khramtsov and Andriy Nasikovsky, the latter of whom is also a suspect in custody.

Polochaninov admitted to the Kyiv Post in a Facebook message that both are his acquaintances through their common interest in soccer.

“That’s all. I don’t have any other connections,” said Polochaninov. “They like sports, so do I. You don’t ask everybody in a gym for their curriculum vitae (resumes) and their life stories.”

Also accused of having “close ties” to the suspects were UDAR party members Yevhen Oharkov, Dmytro Kreinyn and Ihor Opadchiy, the latter two of whom are Kyiv Oblast council lawmakers.

When reached for comment by phone an UDAR press officer wouldn’t comment on the three party members. E-mailed questions to UDAR’s press office went unanswered. 

[Editor's note: This article was updated to include David Zhvania's comments who earlier didn't answer his phone or to text messages that the Kyiv Post had sent.]

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