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24 Nov, 2008 02:26

Footballers puzzled by presidential poisoning summons

In Ukraine, a former football star has found himself drawn into the ongoing investigation over the poisoning of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko. In September 2004 the country's leader was allegedly given a large dose of dioxin, when he was oppositio

Andrey Gusin is a former Dynamo Kiev and Ukrainian national team player, who also had long spells with Russian teams. After he returned home, to his surprise, he was called to the Ukrainian Prosecutor’s Office in connection with the alleged poisoning of President Viktor Yushchenko.

Andrey first thought it was some kind of joke, but later found out he knew one of the figures under investigation.

“They asked me about several people, who are very well known in our country, but the prosecutor was particularly interested in my ties with one businessman,” the football star said. “I understand that he somehow got involved in this case, but I can say only good things about him – he’s a good friend of mine and even a godfather to my children.”

The local press believes Gusin’s friend was Tamaz Tsintsabadze, a famous Kiev car salesman. He is thought to be one of the witnesses in the case

Gusin wasn’t the only football star to be called to Kiev. The world-famous striker Andrey Shevchenko and defender Kakha Kaladze have also reportedly received a summons. Team-mates from FC Milan say it’s not true, according to the club’s official statement.

Viktor Yushchenko was allegedly poisoned during a private lunch in September 2004, ahead of presidential election in Ukraine. Investigators believe that a strong dose of dioxin poison was used. There was even an international angle to the scandal as some alleged that Yushchenko could’ve been poisoned by Russian security services.

The investigation has been going on ever since the Orange Revolution which brought Yushchenko to power in 2005, but so far has produced no results.

Andrey Gusin believes that his visit to the Prosecutor’s Office had nothing to do with politics and that the Yushchenko poisoning case is purely a criminal one. Yet given that the investigation has been going on for several years now, many people in Ukraine believe otherwise.

Political analyst Vitaly Bala says that the case is now used by ruling circles as a political weapon against their opponents.

He said: “When President Yushchenko saw political opposition in one of his allies – David Zhvania – he used this case against him. The same later applied to another one of his former counterparts, Prime Minister Yulia Timoshenko. Involving someone in a criminal case is a good way to mar a politician’s reputation during any election campaign.”

Experts now speculate whether involving football stars in the case is another way to raise the profile of the story. Andrey Gusin says he is forbidden by law from revealing the nature of his testimony, but he’s confident this is not a PR stunt, nor does he think it will affect his reputation.