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Killing of Prominent Banker in Ukraine Capital Casts Pall

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Just weeks before this nation is to host a gathering of global bankers and businesspeople, one of Ukraine’s leading financiers and politicians was killed in what may be the highest-profile contract slaying in the seven years since this former Soviet republic won its independence.

Vadim Hetman, 62, chairman of Ukraine’s currency exchange and a respected patriarch of its banking system, was found dead in the elevator of his Kiev apartment building Wednesday night, shot in the head and stomach.

Although contract killings are common in the Ukrainian capital, the targeting of a figure of Hetman’s lofty rank has shocked this nation. “I am very sorry that such a decent, clever and intelligent person was killed,” Prime Minister Valery Pustovoitenko said.

Visibly saddened, National Bank Chairman Viktor Yushchenko said he doubted the motive for the killing was financial but feared the slaying would harm Ukraine’s stock and financial markets. “This is a warning, and not only to the banking sector,” the pro-market banker told reporters. “It’s one answer to the question of whether investments, national or foreign, will work in this country.”

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At the other end of the political spectrum, Yushchenko’s sentiments were echoed by Socialist Ivan Chyzh: “This shows what it means to do business in an unstable environment.”

Next month, Hetman was to speak at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development’s annual meeting in Kiev in a bid to persuade 4,000 international financiers and business leaders to invest in Ukraine. As architect of Ukraine’s National Bank and chairman of its currency exchange, he was well known to the small but growing international business community here.

As the city spiffs up its image with fresh paint and new asphalt to attract foreigners wary of Ukraine’s business climate, the killing’s timing has sparked speculation that it was intended to sabotage what investment interest the upcoming conference might generate.

“Russians with capital are looking to invest in Ukraine now,” businessman Oleksandr Kovtunenko said. “But they want to make it look unattractive to Western investors, to keep prices low and competition out.”

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International sabotage is not, however, on the police list of motives. Investigators are looking at whether the killing was linked to the currency exchange’s purchase of a historic building in Kiev’s riverside district or the possibility it was tied to last month’s parliamentary elections in which Hetman, a lawmaker since 1992, lost his bid for reelection.

Some hope the high-profile case will prompt authorities to take action against organized crime. Oleksandr Bandurko, an independent lawmaker charged with organizing the opening of the new parliament, told Ukrainian television: “This should be the push for parliament and the government to clean up what’s happening here.”


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