Last month I wrote that the key prosecution witness, Petro Kirichenko, who now resides in the USA under a witness protection program, was scheduled to testify for the prosecution in the pre-trial hearing ahead of the Yevhen Shcherban murder trial. Former PM Yulia Tymoshenko is an official suspect in this crime.
Kirichenko was to provide evidence via video link from California, but his appearance was postponed until May 15, supposedly at the request of the Ukrainian consul in San Francisco for unspecified, 'technical reasons'. There have since been several unsubstantiated reports that Kirichenko simply got 'cold feet' and failed to turn up on the day.
This man has a highly dubious past. Here are some highlights [source]:
Born in Makiyivka, Donetsk oblast - 1952. Worked as trade representative in Hungary and Poland in Soviet times. Set up his own business in 1989 - knew Pavlo Lazarenko since 1986
In 1990 set up 'AgroPostachBut' but three years later allegedly had his 'arm twisted' and was forced to go '50-50' with Lazarenko, who was an oblast governor at the time. Kirichenko allegedly held a secret grudge against Lazarenko ever since.
Kirichenko spent much time in Poland and considered emigrating to the USA where he set up 'ABS Trading'.
In the summer of '95 Kirichenko was arrested in Poland after alleged being linked to a murder and illegal possession of a firearm. But heavy pressure from Lazarenko, by then a cabinet minister, enabled Kirichenko to be released on bail by Polish authorities, after spending a month behind bars.
Kirichenko skipped bail and flew to the USA to apply for permanent residence in that country. He fiddled his application and exaggerated 'ABS Trading's turn-over by many times. He included Lazarenko's ill-gotten money to inflate the figures. He also 'forgot to mention' his then-recent problems in Poland..
In 1999 he was arrested and detained in California at the request of Swiss authorities who were investigating his and Lazarenko's money laundering activities in their country. Kirichenko was involved with setting up intermediary companies to help Lazarenko 'divert' huge sums to which he had access to when he held high office.
In December 1999, having spent half a year sharing a jail cell with Lazarenko, Kirichenko decided to turn state's evidence against his former partner...as a result he was released from his prison cell and placed under house arrest.
In May 2000 he received immunity from prosecution and the right to naturalisation in the USA having pleaded guilty to lesser crimes and paying a $3 million fine.
Subsequently Lazarenko was found guilty of money laundering and corruption and sentenced eventually, to nine years in prison.
Although the prosecution have high hopes for Kirichenko in the Shcherban murder trial, until recently he had never linked Tymoshenko to Schcherban's killing whenever he was questioned by investigators. But he did claim, in 2001, that in 1995 Lazarenko asked him to get in touch with a criminal capo Milchenko a.k.a. 'Matros' to provide protection for Tymoshenko, whose life had apparently been considered to be in mortal danger.
In September 2011 Kirichenko's wife, Isabella, was tricked into returning to Kyiv on the pretext that a friend of Yanukovych's top legal adviser, Andriy Portnov, was interested in purchasing substantial property assets in Kyiv belonging to Kirichenko. These had been frozen after Kirichenko had fled from Ukraine. Isabella was arrested and banged up in prison accused of forging documents and fraud.
Kirichenko was contacted by Ukrainian prosecutors, and again failed to provide any linkage between Tymoshenko and Shcherban's murder...until 2012, after Isabella had been released and returned safely back to the USA, And after Kirichenko had successfully finally 'cashed in' his Ukrainian assets....
Will Kirichenko show up on the 15th? I wonder...
American lawyers will tell him he has every right to remain silent if he so chooses.
p.s. Witness tampering. or attempting to pervert the course of justice is grave crime in most countries...any Ukrainian official who may have participated in such behaviour in this case could face two decades in a US prison...
[Update: Ukraine's prosecution service have terminated their investigation into the Shcherban murder case blaming US and Chech authorities for non co-operation] More later on this sensational development....
[Update 2 - It seems the investigation has been resumed after the previous termination....
Very unprofessional, I say...in fact very shambolic.. quite what Kirichenko and his advisors make of this is anyone's guess..]