RosUkrEnergo’s co-owner Dmytro Firtash in 2008 blamed former Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko for the murder of businessman and lawmaker Yevhen Shcherban, former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor wrote in a diplomatic cable published on the WikiLeaks website on Dec. 1.
“He (Firtash) stated that Lazarenko ordered the killings of Donetsk Governor Yevhen Scherban in 1996 and the head of [gas trading company] Itera in Kyiv for not sharing Lazarenko’s gas business philosophy,” reads the U.S. ambassador’s cable, referring to a conversation that took place on Dec. 8, 2008.
Firtash issued a statement on Dec. 2 refusing to discuss much of what he talked about with Taylor; Lazarenko has always denied involvement in Shcherban's murder.
Photo: Pavlo Lazarenko
In the mid-1990s, Shcherban was among the richest people in Ukraine, a prominent and influential member of parliament. He and his wife were assassinated at Donetsk airport in November 1996 by several men posing as police officers who drove up to his private jet and sprayed automatic fire on the passengers.
Prosecutors said the hit on the businessman was intended to eliminate competition for control of Ukraine’s natural gas industry. In 2002, eight men were arrested and tried for the murder. All of them were found guilty, with three receiving life sentences.
This is not the first time Lazarenko was implicated in the murder. Law enforcement officials claimed that Lazarenko, who in August 2006 was convicted and sentenced to prison in the U.S. for money laundering, hired the eight men to kill Shcherban.
Firtash, according to Taylor, describes the gas business in the mid-1990s as “particularly dangerous” and added that Lazarenko was hiring criminals to manage the government and used his position as prime minister for corruption. The gas tycoon also claimed Tymoshenko, who removed RosUkrEnergo from the Russia-Ukraine gas trade in 2009, along with Lazarenko and his assistant Igor Fisherman “divided and conquered the Ukrainian gas market,” the cable said.
He said Tymoshenko made a fortune while heading Unified Energy Systems, an energy trader, explaining that she “made lots of money off of a corrupt, perpetual gas debt scheme during the 1990s, but she knew nothing about the gas business.”
Asked by Kyiv Post about the cable on Dec. 2, Tymoshenko said she had read the text but did not elaborate on the details.
Kyiv Post staff writer Yuriy Onyshkiv can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org