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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: March 6, 2005


6 March 2005, Volume 7, Number 9
UKRAINE
FORMER UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTER FOUND DEAD. Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko was found dead in his home on 4 March just hours before he was scheduled to be questioned about the 2000 killing of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

A spokeswoman for the Interior Ministry, Inna Kisel, said the death appeared to be suicide but that a forensic investigation is under way.

The death comes two days after Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun said investigators had identified four people involved in the death of Gongadze, who was kidnapped and slain in late 2000.

Two of the suspected killers were employed by the Interior Ministry, which at the time was headed by Kravchenko. Kravchenko served as Interior Minister from 1995 to 2001.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko was quoted on 4 March as saying he believed the Gongadze investigation may have played some role in Kravchenko's death.

Gongadze, whose reports were antigovernment, was abducted in Kyiv in September 2000. His decapitated body was found later buried in a forest outside the capital.

The death sparked months of protests against then-President Leonid Kuchma, who the opposition alleged was involved in the killing.

Those allegations were given new life when a former bodyguard for Kuchma -- Mykola Melnychenko -- said he had made secret recordings of conversations in Kuchma's office that appeared to link Kuchma to Gongadze's death. Some of the tapes involved alleged conversations with Kravchenko.

In one of the tapes, a voice believed to be Kuchma's was overheard purportedly ordering Kravchenko to take measures against the journalist. In response, a man believed to be Kravchenko said he will do whatever it is that Kuchma wants.

Kuchma has denied any connection with Gongadze's killings and no conclusive link has yet been presented.

The authenticity of the tapes has never been completely proven, though investigators in the United States and other countries say they appear to be genuine.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Piskun announced recently that he intends to conduct another investigation into the tapes' authenticity. He has asked Melnychenko to return to Ukraine and be present during this examination.

Kravchenko's death complicates the investigation and raises many new questions in the rapidly unfolding Gongadze case.

"As concerns the investigation, it will be more difficult to investigate the role of former higher state officials [in the killing]," said Oleksandr Sushko, director of the Center for Peace, Conversion, and Foreign Policy, a Kyiv-based research center. "Without Kravchenko it will be more difficult to prove or dismiss the role of [Leonid] Kuchma."

He said Kravchenko's death also exposes what he calls the "complete incompetence" of Prosecutor-General Piskun. He said it was Piskun's responsibility to ensure Kravchenko's safety as the main witness in the Gongadze case.

Piskun on 2 March said investigators had identified all four people involved in Gongadze's slaying and knew who was the mastermind. He did not name names, but according to the Interfax news agency the suspects are cooperating in the investigation.

Hryhoriy Omelchenko, a member of the parliament's commission investigating the murder of Gongadze, told the media on 3 March that Kravchenko was under extreme pressure and that Omelchenko was fearful that Kravchenko might take his own life. (Valentinas Mite)

(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and RFE/RL Regional Analyst Roman Kupchinsky contributed to this report.)

PROSECUTOR-GENERAL DETAILS GONGADZE MURDER PROBE. Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, in a news conference in Kyiv on 2 March, provided additional details about the investigation into the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. This follows the announcement on 1 March by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko of a major breakthrough in the four-year-old case, including the detention of the investigative journalist's suspected killers.

Piskun confirmed that the authorities have detained Gongadze's suspected killers. But he refused to name them, saying the suspects have not yet been formally charged: "Names in criminal cases are not disclosed until these people are presented with criminal charges."

However, Piskun corroborated President Yushchenko's hint on 1 March that Gongadze's killers were affiliated with the Interior Ministry. Piskun described a well-coordinated operation to abduct and kill Gongadze: "They had followed him and waited until he was alone, worked out a special operation, drove up in a car which he [Gongadze] thought was a taxi. He got in the car, but they told him that the front seat was broken and he should sit in the back. As soon as he took the back seat of the car, three policemen jumped into the car. They took him outside Kyiv, beating him on the way. They brought him to the place [where they killed him], they tied his hands. In short, they killed him, poured gasoline on his body and set it on fire."

Piskun indicated that his team is ready to pursue the case's potential political ties. Many in Ukraine suspect former President Leonid Kuchma of having given the go-ahead for Gongadze's murder, although he vehemently denies the allegation.

Weeks after Gongadze's headless corpse was found near Kyiv in late 2000, recordings said to have been made by one of Kuchma's bodyguards -- Mykola Melnychenko -- were released to the public. The so-called "Melnychenko tapes" shocked many who heard them.

On the recordings, which were played in parliament, a voice that was purportedly Kuchma's tells another man, who sounds like the interior minister at the time, to have Gongadze "removed and thrown to the Chechens."

Kuchma has always argued strenuously that the tapes were fakes. But the subsequent lack of progress in the investigation raised suspicions that Kuchma's administration was not actively pursuing the killers. Seemingly every time investigators pursued a promising lead, they would get reassigned and the trail would run cold. Piskun himself was removed from the case -- which he was investigating at the time -- on Kuchma's orders.

Piskun on 2 March called on Kuchma's bodyguard Melnychenko, who has since been given refugee status in the United States, to return to Ukraine with the original tapes and recording equipment so that the investigation can be resumed. Piskun declared that charges filed against Melnychenko for unlawful eavesdropping on the head of state had been dropped.

"As Ukrainian prosecutor-general I guarantee [Melnychenko's] immunity [from prosecution] and I declare that there is no intention to prosecute him because the charges against him have been dropped and I have closed the criminal case against Melnychenko," he said.

Piskun appealed for the public's patience, stressing that all leads will be pursued and that those responsible for ordering and carrying out Gongadze's murder will be punished. (Jeremy Bransten)

WHAT DO MELNYCHENKO TAPES SAY ABOUT GONGADZE CASE? Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun said on 3 March that he wants the secret recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in former President Leonid Kuchma's office to be examined by international experts and, if authenticated, to be included as evidence in the case of the abduction and murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Piskun announced that he has closed a criminal case against Melnychenko for illegal eavesdropping on Kuchma and invited the former presidential bodyguard, who had obtained refugee status in the United States, to come to Ukraine with his tapes for the proposed examination.

The Melnychenko tapes, some of which were transcribed and published on the Internet, have never been officially recognized as genuine in Ukraine. On the contrary, the former government of President Leonid Kuchma has made many attempts to put their authenticity in doubt and suggest that they were doctored to compromise Kuchma and other top-ranking Ukrainian officials. Which is no surprise -- the Melnychenko tapes suggest that Kuchma might at least have inspired former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko to abduct Georgian-born Gongadze, founder and editor-in-chief of the "Ukrayinska pravda" muckraking and investigative website in Ukraine, and "drive him out to Georgia" or hand him over to "the Chechens."

In the United States, Melnychenko hired a private audio-verification laboratory, Bek Tek, to analyze the segments of the recordings dealing with Gongadze. Bek Tek concluded that the recordings were authentic and had not been tampered with and that the voices were those of Kuchma and Kravchenko. The owner of Bek Tek, Bruce Koening, had been an FBI audio-verification expert for many years and his company had done similar verifications for the U.S. Supreme Court and numerous other organizations.

Irrespective of what will be done with the Melnychenko tapes in the Yushchenko era, "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report" considers it advisable to present some translated excerpts from the tapes dealing with the Gongadze case. These translations put the currently revived and reportedly successful investigation in the Gongadze case into a proper, even if linguistically shocking, context.

These transcriptions -- known as "episodes" -- were published on the Internet by the end of 2000. Currently, they can be found at http:/www.brama.com/survey/messages/4163.html and http:/www.perehid.org.ua/look/25_11_2000.phtml. The translations presented below are abbreviated and somewhat revised versions of the translations made by KPNews.com, which are currently available at http://www.totse.com/en/politics/police/kpnewscomsengl178978.html. The words "blya" and "blyad" are not translated, since they are here used not in their original meaning ("whore") but primarily for adding an emotional tincture to the speech. (Jan Maksymiuk)

Episode 1

Kuchma: Hello.

Unknown: Hello.

Kuchma: Give me this one, about "Ukrayinska pravda"...[indecipherable]. We will start to decide what to do with him. He has simply gone too far already.

Unknown: I need a case.

Kuchma: What?

Unknown: Send for the case? [indecipherable]

Kuchma: Good.

Unknown: The case...we are simply making a copy.

Kuchma: No, I don't necessarily need the case? "Ukrayinska pravda," well, this is completely already, blya, insolence. Bastard, blya. The Georgian, Georgian.

Unknown: Gongadze?

Kuchma: Gongadze. Who finances him?

Unknown: Well, he actively works with this, with Moroz, with [the website] "Grani"....

Kuchma: It's just, blya...there is some, son of a bitch, blya.... Deport him, blyad, to Georgia and throw him out there [expletive] him. Drive him out to Georgia and throw him there. The Chechens should abduct him and throw him.

Episode 2

Kuchma: So that I don't forget, there's this one Gongadze...

Kravchenko: I think I have [heard] this kind of surname.

Kuchma: Well, bastard, blya, of the last extreme.

Kravchenko: Gongadze. He has already came our way somewhere...

Kuchma: What?

Kravchenko: He passed by somewhere. We'll look [for him].

Kuchma: That means that he constantly writes to some "Ukrayinska some kind of pravda," pushes it in the Internet, understand? Who finances him?

Kravchenko: [indecipherable] I have people...

Kuchma: But the main thing he needs to be pushed back. Volodya says the Chechens should steal him and drive him to Chechnya to [expletive] for himself and ask for a ransom...

Episode 4

Kuchma: This Gongadze.

Kravchenko: I, we're working on him. It means...

Kuchma: I'm telling you, drive him out, throw him out. Give him to the Chechens. [indecipherable]...and then a ransom.

Kravchenko: We'll think it over. We'll do it in such a way so that...

Kuchma: I mean, drive him out, undress him, blya, leave him without his pants, let him sit there.

Kravchenko: I'd do it simply, blya, they reported to me about it today. We're learning the situation: where he's walking, how he walks. We've got someone sitting there connected up. We have to study it a little bit, we'll do it. The team I have is a fighting one, such eagles, they'll do everything you want.

REINING IN THE SBU. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) is being overhauled by its new civilian head, Oleksandr Turchynov, a close political ally of newly elected Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko.

Turchynov said in an interview for the 19 February edition of the "Zerkalo tyzhnya" weekly that the SBU is presently involved in investigating Volodymyr Satsyuk, the first deputy of his predecessor Colonel General Ihor Smeshko on a number of charges, among them financial irregularities and possible involvement in the poisoning of President Viktor Yushchenko.

Many in Ukraine have alleged that the SBU, an all-powerful government within a government, was used by former President Leonid Kuchma to listen in on opposition leaders' phone conversations and conduct special operations to physically harm his enemies and blacken their reputations.

Satsyuk, a former KGB officer, also had a seat in parliament as a member of the Social-Democratic Party-united faction. He was said to have been appointed deputy head of the SBU at the insistence of Viktor Medvedchuk, the head of Kuchma's administration.

In the interview, Turchynov told the paper: "I do not want to comment on an ongoing investigation, but I can tell you that there is evidence of serious [financial] wrongdoings. As to other, more serious matters, we shall have answers to these in a very short time."

On 17 February, Interfax reported that Turchynov announced that the SBU had initiated a criminal investigation of the former SBU leadership into alleged wiretapping of telephone conversations of Tymoshenko and Yushchenko during the election campaign.

Turchynov did not say who used the information gathered by these wiretaps and if they included Russia's Federal Security Service (FSB), presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych, Kuchma, or others who might have benefited from having access to such conversations.

On 19 February, Interfax reported that Turchynov announced that the SBU had begun an investigation into the possibility that many SBU officers and Ukrainian diplomats had been "recruited by foreign countries." And while Turchynov did not specify which "foreign countries" might have been involved, he did dwell at length on the fact that, according to bilateral agreements with Russia, both sides had agreed not to engage in such activities against each other. Turchynov also narrowed down the field of potential culprits by saying that "The SBU is not only capable, it is charged with stopping all illegal activities of any special service, including those which represent states that are members of regional grouping"

The current investigations might shed some light on events that took place during the Orange Revolution in Kyiv in November-December 2004.

"The New York Times" on 17 January published a report based on conversations with SBU officers and with Smeshko. The report presented the SBU and its former head in a more positive light. The article claimed that, during the revolution, Smeshko and some of his closest SBU colleagues saved demonstrators from an imminent attack by armed Interior Ministry troops.

However, a number of SBU officers in Kyiv told RFE/RL that the article in "The New York Times" was one-sided, presented Smeshko in "too good a light," and failed to take into account all the other illegal activities that the SBU were allegedly involved in helping the pro-government Yanukovych campaign. One senior SBU officer interviewed by RFE/RL speculated that the article in the "The New York Times" was "an attempt by the Americans to keep Smeshko in power."

This explanation stems from a fierce internal struggle that has raged within the SBU since Smeshko's appointment in September 2003. Smeshko, the former head of the Ukrainian military intelligence service (GRU), had served as Ukraine's first military attache in Washington from 1992-1996. Some of the SBU officers interviewed claimed that Smeshko had been recruited to work for the U.S. government at that time. Smeshko has not responded to these charges.

Other SBU officers interviewed by RFE/RL rejected these views as "disinformation" and part of a "conspiracy theory." They insist that Smeshko was resented for his connection to the GRU, a traditional rival of the former KGB. These officers claim that Smeshko merely saw the writing on the wall and switched loyalties to the Yushchenko camp in order to preserve his position in the SBU.

How much success Turchynov will have in cleaning up the SBU is difficult to predict given the Byzantine nature of the organization. Yet if Turchynov fails, the consequences could be far reaching as Ukraine attempts to break definitively from its communist and corrupt past. (Roman Kupchinsky)

QUOTES OF THE WEEK
"We have reasons today to say that the murder of Giya [Heorhiy] Gongadze has been solved. Giya Gongadze's murderers have been detained. They are now giving testimony. Yesterday, when we were discussing how to conduct the operation, I learned some circumstances of the last moments of the life of Giya Gongadze. It was a horrendous death, which has been corroborated by testimonies of the murderers. It was hard to believe that in this millennium, there are people among civil servants who have such anger, such hatred, and such animal behavior toward their citizens. My main goal today, together with law-enforcement agencies, is to find the answer to the main question: who organized and committed that murder. The investigation has now reached that stage. I think the fact that the murder has not been solved for four and a half years but was solved in several weeks under the new authorities proves that the previous government not only lacked the political will to solve it...but, what is important to say today, the previous government sheltered the murderers." -- Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko on 1 March; quoted by the "Ukrayinska pravda" website.

"I think it will be possible to say the case is resolved once both those who ordered the killing and those who carried it out are named. So far, we have not heard the name of those who ordered it." -- Myroslava Gongadze, the wife of Heorhiy Gongadze, in an interview with RFE/RL on 2 March.

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