Ukrainian authorities say they are investigating claims that jailed former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko was involved in a contract-style murder, a fresh allegation that further dims hopes she will be released soon despite Western concerns that her prosecution was politically motivated.
Tymoshenko was sentenced to seven years in jail earlier this month after being found guilty of violating legal procedures while approving a natural gas import contract with Russian in 2009 on Oct. 11. She has appealed the ruling, but that process could take months.
In the meantime, she faces fresh criminal and corruption probes, and has been charged with trying to embezzle $405 million in government funds.
The United States and Europe have criticized Tymoshenko's jailing as politically motivated. The European Union postponed a key visit to Brussels by President Viktor Yanukovych in protest and signaled it would not sign a landmark association agreement with Kiev as long as Tymoshenko remains in jail.
Tymoshenko, the country's top opposition leader, claims longtime for Yanukovych wants her in jail to bar her from next year's parliamentary elections.
Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin said on a talk show late Friday that prosecutors are checking into claims that Tymoshenko may have been implicated in the slaying of a lawmaker and businessman in 1996, he said.
"We must tell people whether a crime was committed, ... whether a person was killed using Tymoshenko's money, whether an order (to kill) was issued," Kuzmin said on Big Politics on the Inter channel. "This information must be checked."
Tymoshenko's office denied the allegations as "rubbish."
"The attempts by Yanukovych and his allies to get rid of their political opponents know no limits," Tymoshenko's spokeswoman Natasha Lisova said.
Yanukovych initially suggested Tymoshenko could be released after changes to Ukraine's criminal code, but then he indicated the reforms would take time.