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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 12:36 GMT
Ukraine MPs back murder probe
President Leonid Kuchma
Kuchma: Faces criminal proceedings over claims
The Ukrainian parliament has backed a call to launch a formal legal inquiry into President Leonid Kuchma for allegedly helping a former prime minister to organise the assassination of two MPs.

The motion to start the inquiry - the first stage of formal criminal proceedings - was proposed by the Anti-Mafia faction within parliament.

It called for Mr Kuchma to be investigated by the General Prosecutor's office over his alleged role in aiding and abetting the former Prime Minister, Pavlo Lazarenko, who is accused of murdering two members of parliament, Yevhen Shcherban and Vadym Hetman.

The general prosecutor is not obliged to take action on the matter.

Mr Shcherban, who had major business interests, was shot dead at Donetsk airport in 1996.

Pavlo Lazarenko
Ex-Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko is also accused
Officials believe his murder may have been linked to a turf war with rival businessmen, who were allies of Mr Lazarenko.

However, other reports have suggested that Mr Shcherban had himself previously been linked to an assassination attempt against Mr Lazarenko.

Two years after the first shooting, the second deputy, Mr Hetman, was murdered in Kiev in April 1998.

He was head of a major currency exchange, and officials have also linked his death to a business dispute involving Mr Lazarenko.

Public allegations

The three anti-mafia deputies who proposed the parliamentary motion demanded a full, objective investigation into the whole affair.

They want the investigation's findings to be sent to parliament for a decision on whether the president should be impeached.

More than 340 MPs were in parliament as the vote was taken, and 160 voted to support the move, reported the Ukrainian news agency, Unian.

Ukraine is preparing for parliamentary elections on 31 March.

The murder accusations against Mr Lazarenko were formally made public at the start of February.

A deputy prosecutor general told a news conference that an official allegation had been levelled against him for organising the two killings.

Conspiracy claim

Nearly $3m was allegedly transferred from Mr Lazarenko's private bank accounts to fund the murders, the news conference heard.

Allegations were also made of a wider murder conspiracy.

Officials say that files lodged at a court in Kiev name a total of eight people who are accused of 25 murders and 17 attempted murders.

Mr Lazarenko is currently in the US, where he is facing money-laundering and corruption charges in San Francisco.

Ukraine has asked for him to be extradited, but the lack of an appropriate treaty is thought to make this unlikely.

Mr Kuchma has previously faced claims of involvement in other murders, including the death of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, whose headless body was found in a forest after he vanished.

See also:

27 Feb 01 | Media reports
Kuchma rejects Ukraine murder claims
19 Feb 01 | From Our Own Correspondent
Ukraine's air of unrest
23 Feb 01 | Europe
Ukraine seeks FBI help
29 Nov 00 | Media reports
Death, lies and audiotape - Ukraine-style
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