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Poland, Belarus & Ukraine Report: December 11, 2001

11 December 2001, Volume 3, Number 47
LEPPER PRODUCES KEY WITNESS, BEWILDERMENT. Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper, who accused five prominent politicians of taking bribes and of having contacts with the mafia shortly before his dismissal from his post as Sejm deputy speaker on 29 November (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 December 2001), has finally disclosed the identity of his key witness on whose evidence he based his charges. The mysterious witness turned out to be Bogdan Gasinski, a former representative of the Warsaw-based Inter Commerce company for the Warmia and Mazury Province. On 7 December, Lepper submitted statements by four witnesses, an audio tape, and a videotape, to the District Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw. According to him, the submitted materials include evidence that Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski (Democratic Left Alliance) and lawmaker Pawel Piskorski (Civic Platform) accepted bribes in the past. Lepper added that he would submit documents concerning corruption practices of the remaining politicians on his list -- that is, Andrzej Olechowski, Donald Tusk, and Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz -- on 10 December.

On 8 December, the District Prosecutor's Office in Warsaw questioned Gasinski. "Bogdan Gasinski has not been summoned as a witness but came here on his own accord. He is being interviewed as a witness. The proceedings will last until Monday [10 December]," prosecutor Jerzy Labuda told PAP the same day.

Labuda said Gasinski gave his evidence to Lepper no earlier than on 28 November, that is, one day before Lepper's shattering allegations in the Sejm. Labuda added that it transpires from Gasinski's testimony that he was also gathering evidence after Lepper's address at the Sejm.

Meanwhile, another prosecutor, Zygmunt Kapusta from the Appeals Prosecution service in Warsaw, told the media the same day that Gasinski's evidence is "improbable and not very credible." Kapusta said Gasinski claimed in his testimony that he was a courier and was carrying documents from Afghans. Somewhat cryptically, Kapusta announced that Gasinski's testimony is a breakthrough in the case, but added that the interrogation "is not going in the direction it should be going."

Lepper briefed journalists on 8 December on some evidence collected by Gasinski. "One statement [by Gasinski] says that on 24 February 2000, in Braniewo, near Elblag [northern Poland], Jerzy Nagraba -- aka Woodpecker -- gave Jerzy Szmajdzinski $50,000. He had received the money from a 'Mr. S.' The money was one of the installments which Mr. Szmajdzinski was to get for arranging a job for a colleague of 'Mr. S' -- aka Karate Man or Rafcio -- on the board of directors of the Jelfa [pharmaceutical firm] in Jelenia Gora," Polish Radio quoted Lepper as saying.

Szmajdzinski said the same day that he does not know any Woodpecker, adding that Lepper's allegations are a provocation that is "no longer funny." (According to "Gazeta Wyborcza," "Mr. S" is Rudolf Skowronski, the president of Inter Commerce.)

Lepper also said Gasinski witnessed Piskorski accepting bribes totaling more than $400,000.

On 9 December, Lepper imparted more bewildering news to the media. Referring to Gasinski's revelations, Lepper accused the Polish authorities of hiding a document linked to the 11 September terrorist attacks on the U.S. "I must reveal this document that has been concealed by the Polish government and deals with the 11 September [events]. The United States will get to know what takes place on the territory of Poland," Lepper said, adding that he will seek a personal meeting with the U.S. ambassador to Poland.

The document in question is Gasinski's letter of 28 October to the Regional Prosecutor's Office in Olsztyn. Lepper copiously quoted from the letter, but it is hard to form a coherent and logically sober view from a relevant PAP report regarding what was actually included in the letter and about what particular crimes Gasinski notified the prosecutors of in October.

Lepper said Gasinski wrote to the prosecutors that he acted as a courier and passed the plans of airports in Frankfurt, Bochum, Duesseldorf, Munich, Paris, and Warsaw to "people from Afghanistan." "Misters Skowronski and [Senator Robert] Smoktunowicz often flew to Afghanistan as well," Lepper said.

"This is yet another revelation of the political madman named Andrzej Lepper," Smoktunowicz said of Lepper's divulgence.

"Some people from the Pruszkow [Mafia] -- including [the man nicknamed] 'Chinese' -- are strongly linked to bomb attacks in the U.S., and their role in them is significant.... Ryszard Niemczyk was in possession of detailed plans of the terrorist attack on the U.S. [on 11 September] -- I saw these plans in July and managed to copy some of them. There were [also] several targets for terrorist actions in Poland," Lepper quoted from Gasinski's letter.

Another passage from Gasinski's puzzling letter: "In the Klewki farming complex [owned by Inter Commerce], experiments were conducted with vaccines from the Czech Republic and Israel, which caused a large mortality rate among the cattle. Some of those animals, after they had been burned, were shipped abroad. I dealt with this personally, having an arsenal of veterinarians at my disposal. The shipments were made by helicopter."

And one more passage: "In 2000, there were Afghans working in Klewki. [Their purpose was] to obtain anthrax samples, eschericha coli and salmonella bacteria, as well as gangrenous varieties of these viruses. At the same time, Rudolf Skowronski was trading in precious stones with Afghanistan, but this was only a cover for his actual trade in Afghan drugs."

The "Gazeta Wyborcza" website commented on 9 December that "Bogdan Gasinski, who has been circulating Poland for several years, while trying to avoid prosecutors and leaving unpaid debts behind him, has not been able over the past several months to find people who could believe his fantastic stories. But Self-Defense leader Andrzej Lepper has believed them. And repeated them from the parliamentary rostrum."

The website called Gasinski a "con man" and cited a long string of offenses that Gasinski allegedly committed during his peregrinations in Poland. As regards the Klewki farm, "Gazeta Wyborcza" reported that Gasinski took a job there in September 1999 and ran away in April 2001 after selling all the cattle on the farm and inflicting losses of some 700,000 zlotys ($173,000) on his company, Inter Commerce.

SHUSHKEVICH, KRAVCHUK ON DISSOLUTION OF USSR. Ten years ago, on 8 December 1991, Belarus's Supreme Soviet Chairman Stanislau Shushkevich, Ukrainian President Leonid Kravchuk, and Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a document stating that "the Soviet Union as a geopolitical reality [and] a subject of international law has ceased to exist." The document simultaneously announced the creation of a new entity in the post-USSR territory -- the Commonwealth of Independent States. The document -- now widely known as the Belavezha Agreement -- was signed in a government villa in Viskuli in Belarus's Belavezha Forest, which is Europe's only primeval wooded area. On 25 December 1991, Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the USSR, stepped down, delivering a coup de grace for the 69-year-old superpower that was vilified for posterity by U.S. President Ronald Reagan as the "Evil Empire."

Commenting on that momentous event to a number of media outlets last week, both Shushkevich and Kravchuk admitted that they did not expect any historic act to take place during their meeting with Yeltsin in Viskuli on 7-8 December 1991.

"Nothing had been done [in advance], all was written down on the spot [in Viskuli]," Shushkevich told the Minsk-based "Nasha svaboda" on 7 December. "In any case, if something had been prepared beforehand, I didn't know about that. Of course, there were some prepared documents, but not for the agreement [on the dissolution of the USSR]. The talks between the government delegations concerned economic issues."

In the Kyiv-based "Fakty" on 7 December, Kravchuk added an interesting detail to the meeting in the Belavezha Forest. "After we considered everything in the evening of 7 December in Belavezha, Yeltsin ordered his team to draft a document -- a statement or declaration. We had not yet decided on a name for the document. Yeltsin's aides wrote that document and left it for a woman to type it up in the morning (we had only one typist in the Belavezha Forest). Since her office was already locked, they slid the document into the office through a slit under the door. But in the morning the typist said: 'I haven't found anything.' There was no document! It turned out that a cleaning woman, who came to the office earlier, saw some papers on the floor and swept them away. Korzhakov [first deputy chief of Russia's Main Protection Directorate] was sent to look for the missing document.... Frankly speaking, I didn't know then that the draft agreement was lost. I was told about that only recently by [former Russian Foreign Minister] Andrei Kozyrev."

Kravchuk dismissed the rumors circulating especially among post-Soviet communists that Yeltsin was talked into signing the Belavezha Agreement after he had too much to drink. "We came to the forest on 7 December in the evening. We had a dinner. During the dinner -- yes! -- there was Belavezha vodka [Belarus's fine herbal vodka] there. I drank it, too. I don't know what Yeltsin was doing after we parted. But on 8 December in the morning, when we met to work on the document, Yeltsin was as sober as a judge. I don't exaggerate! He was in good form, vigorous, he had ideas.... All of us [present there] saw him and everybody can confirm that Yeltsin and all of us were fully aware [of what we were doing]."

Kravchuk underscored the impact of Ukraine's independence referendum on the adoption of the Belavezha Agreement. A week earlier, on 1 December 1991, more than 90 percent of Ukrainians supported the country's independence in a referendum. The same day, Kravchuk was elected as the first president of independent Ukraine with some 63 percent of the vote.

"I said there: Ukraine voted for independence and elected me as president. So, may I have a position different from that of the people? [It would be] ridiculous. Therefore, I am obliged to act as the people willed.... In other words, the 1 December referendum had a historic importance. If there had been no Ukrainian referendum, the Belavezha Forest meeting would have produced no result," Kravchuk said.

After the agreement was signed, Yeltsin telephoned U.S. President George Bush and told him what had happened. And then Shushkevich briefed Gorbachev.

"He [Gorbachev] inquired in a very haughty manner, 'Have you considered how the world will react?' I said Yeltsin was on the phone to Bush and he had taken it well," Shushkevich told Reuters.

Today, Shushkevich assesses the Belavezha Agreement as historic not only for Belarus and Ukraine, but also for Russia itself. Until that day, Russia -- which was automatically associated or even identified with the Soviet Union -- did not exist as a separate political entity.

"The Belavezha Agreement has an all-important, historic significance in terms of our sovereignty. For the first time in the past 200 years, Russia recognized Belarus's independence, as well as that of Ukraine. This is what the Belavezha Agreement meant to me and Kravchuk. But we also recognized the independence of Russia -- her independence from the Soviet Union. So here you have the [whole] meaning of the Belavezha Agreement," Shushkevich told "Nasha svaboda."