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Corruption Watch: March 4, 2005

4 March 2005, Volume 5, Number 2
By Roman Kupchinsky

Former Ukrainian Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko was found dead in his country home on 4 March, just hours before he was to appear before prosecutors for questioning related to his possible involvement in the death of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000.

Kravchenko was regarded as a key figure in the Gongadze case and was implicated in the killing based on tapes purportedly containing private conversations with then President Leonid Kuchma.

The Interior Ministry's public-relations department told ITAR-TASS on 4 March that a forensic examination will be conducted to "find out whether it was a murder or suicide."

Inna Kisel, a spokeswoman for newly appointed Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko, said Kravchenko's death appeared to be suicide.

ITAR-TASS cited an unidentified source participating in the investigation into the death as saying Kravchenko took his own life at 8:45 a.m. local time. Kravchenko was to appear at the Prosecutor-General's Office for questioning at 10 a.m.

"Yet, this is merely a version," the news agency quoted the source as saying.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun announced at a 2 March news conference on developments in the Gongadze murder case that Kravchenko had been summoned for questioning.

Audio recordings purportedly made in Kuchma's office by a member of the presidential security detail, Mykola Melnychenko, contain conversations in which a voice alleged to be Kravchenko's is heard discussing Gongadze.

Hryhoriy Omelchenko, a member of parliament's commission investigating Gongadze's killing, told the media on 3 March that Kravchenko and former President Leonid Kuchma should be arrested immediately.

Omelchenko also said he was fearful that Kravchenko might take his own life, as he was under extreme pressure.

Kravchenko was appointed interior minister by then President Kuchma on 3 July 1995.

Kuchma removed Kravchenko from leadership of the Interior Ministry on 27 March 2001 and eventually appointed him head of the Ukrainian Tax Administration.

Kravchenko, born on 5 March 1951 in Ukraine's Kirovohrad Oblast, is survived by his wife and two daughters.

By Roman Kupchinsky

Ukraine's prosecutor-general said on 2 March that two senior police officers were arrested in connection with the 2000 murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun said the two officers are police colonels.

The day before, Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko announced that authorities have solved the Gongadze murder case, and accused former President Leonid Kuchma's government of covering up the case.

"The killers of Heorhiy Gongadze have been found and arrested," Yushchenko said on 1 March, quickly adding that the "former regime acted as the umbrella, protecting the killers." Interfax reported that Yushchenko pointed to former Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasilyev as a man "whose mission was not to solve this case."

For 4 1/2 years, Ukrainian law enforcement agencies were unable, unwilling, or forbidden to find the persons responsible for the killing of Gongadze, an Internet journalist whose website "Ukrayinska pravda" had been exposing corruption at the highest levels of the Ukrainian government.

Gongadze disappeared on the night of 16 September 2000 and was never seen alive again. In November that year, a badly decomposed, headless corpse was found buried in a narrow trench in a village outside Kyiv. Belated DNA tests proved the corpse to be Gongadze's.


Later that month, the head of the Socialist Party, Oleksandr Moroz, told a session of parliament that he was in possession of recordings made in the offices of then President Leonid Kuchma by a member of his security detail, Major Mykola Melnychenko. The recordings, Moroz said, strongly indicated that Kuchma was involved in planning Gongadze's abduction. In parliament, Moroz played the tapes, which appeared to be recordings of Kuchma talking to a person identified as then Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko and telling Kravchenko, among other things, to have "Gongadze removed and thrown to the Chechen's."

A voice believed to be Kravchenko's is heard telling Kuchma that his "Eagles" are ready to do anything to Gongadze that Kuchma orders them to.

The "Melnychenko tapes," as they came to be called, sparked the gravest political crisis of Kuchma's presidency. Hours upon hours of conversations appeared to reveal wrongdoings at the very top of the government. These revelations led to the "Ukraine without Kuchma" movement and eventually to the "Orange Revolution" of 2004.

From the very beginning of the "Kuchmagate" scandal, as the Ukrainian press dubbed it, Kuchma denied ever having spoken to Kravchenko and others about Gongadze and claimed that he did not know the journalist. He promptly issued a statement that he had placed the Gongadze investigation under his personal supervision and would see to it that the guilty were found and punished.

However, by 2003 Melnychenko had been granted refugee status in the United States, where he 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.

In response to Bek Tek's findings, the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office conducted its own authentication of a copy of the same conversation and declared that it was a fake, a montage of voices, and could not be placed in evidence.

Little Progress

In autumn 2003, Svyatoslav Piskun replaced Mykhaylo Potebenko as prosecutor-general and promtply vowed to solve the Gongadze murder case in six months. Piskun, despite suspicions by the Gongadze family that he was covering up the investigation, did manage to make considerable headway in the case and interrogated a number of Interior Ministry (MVD) officers who described how higher-level MVD officials had ordered that Gongadze be followed and then destroyed the evidence of this surveillance. These officers told investigators from the Prosecutor-General's Office that the orders to follow Gongadze had come "from the very top" of the MVD and that high-level officers supervised the operation.

These revelations led Piskun to arrest MVD General Oleksiy Pukach on suspicion of having ordered Gongadze followed and after the killing, of ordering the destruction of evidence about this surveillance.

Shortly after Pukach's arrest, Kuchma fired Piskun. Unexplained allegations were made by the SBU and the President's Council on Combating Corruption that Piskun had "embezzled funds". After a few months, Kuchma appointed Piskun deputy head of the National Defense and Security Council. He was never prosecuted for his alleged "embezzling."

Kuchma then appointed Hennadiy Vasilyev as prosecutor-general. Vasilyev, a political supporter of Kuchma, promptly had Pukach released from prison after making him sign a statement that he would not leave the country.

As prosecutor-general, Vasilyev did not seem to make any headway in investigating the case. This lack of activity led many in Ukraine to suspect that he was deliberately covering up the case and protecting those who might have been implicated.

When information was leaked to the British newspaper "The Independent" in June 2004 about how the MVD destroyed documents in the case, Vasilyev ordered an investigation into the leak and brought in the British journalist for questioning.

Orange Revolution

Vasilyev was fired by Kuchma as part of an agreement with parliament to hold a rerun of the second round of elections in December 2004. The opposition had been demanding his removal for some time and Kuchma was forced to concede on this matter and reappointed Piskun to his old post.

After Yushchenko was inaugurated in January, Piskun was allowed to remain as prosecutor-general. But the new president reportedly asked the SBU and the MVD, now headed by his supporters, to probe the Gongadze case properly and find those responsible.

By this time, Pukach had disappeared and was placed on a wanted list while former MVD head Kravchenko was rumored to have fled the country, although no arrest warrant was apparently issued for him. Kuchma left Ukraine in the second part of February for Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic for a vacation.

By late February, the newly invigorated investigation began producing results. On 1 March, Yushchenko announced that the SBU had arrested the killers of Gongadze on 28 February and that they were cooperating with investigators, although he did not name the arrested suspects. Interfax reported on 1 March that two men had been arrested and one surrendered to the police himself. Two of the men were colonels and one a general of the MVD.

Yushchenko told a news conference in Kyiv on 1 March that the Kuchma government had protected the killers and reiterated his earlier promise to find those "who had ordered the killing" and bring them to justice along with the actual murderers.

At the close of his press briefing Yushchenko said the time had finally come to bury the remains of Heorhiy Gongadze, which have been lying in a Kyiv morgue for four and a half years.

By Roman Kupchinsky

"To seek to possess weapons that could counter those of the infidels is a religious duty." -- Osama bin Laden, speaking in 1998.

Biological weapons (BW) have been called the poor man's atomic bomb. Experts readily concur. Biological agents, they say, are easy to obtain, are compact, and extremely deadly. They are "hundreds to thousands of times" more deadly than chemical agents, according to a 1993 report by the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress. The report -- "Technologies Underlying Weapons of Mass Destruction" -- called biological agents the "true weapons of mass destruction with a potential for lethal mayhem that can exceed that of nuclear weapons."

Despite these frightful assertions, the question of the practicality of biological terrorism remains a valid one -- are biological agents a realistic weapon for terrorists? What are the chances for a group of terrorists to obtain or manufacture biological agents, successfully store them and find the means to effectively disseminate them?

Fortunately, numerous studies have shown that serious doubts exist about the effectiveness of biological weapons, which explains their rare appearance on the battlefield.

A report by the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS), "Biological Weapons Proliferation," prepared in June 2000 (, notes that while the 30 microbes that "directly or indirectly afflict humans" and have been considered likely biological warfare agents, are easy and cheap to produce, it is much more difficult to develop BW munitions that have a predictable effect. Furthermore, these pathogens and toxins are "susceptible to such environmental stresses as heat, oxidation, and desiccation, to be effective they must maintain their potency during weapon storage, delivery, and dissemination."

A March 2003 report by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) -- "Terrorist Motivations for Chemical and Biological Weapons Use: Placing the Threat in Context" -- found that terrorist groups face numerous problems with acquiring BW materials, maintaining them, transforming them into weapons, and disseminating them.

Dissemination of a biological agent is best done by dispersing a low-altitude aerosol cloud. For such purposes, weapons designers have designed spray tanks, cluster bombs, and bomblet dispensers, but in turn are faced with the problem of storage. Even if refrigerated, most of the organisms have a limited lifetime.

Use of a bomb to disseminate the agent is unacceptable since an explosive charge is likely to kill the organisms.

Aum Shinrikyo

Many BW experts have singled out the 1995 Aum Shinrikyo sarin gas attack in the Tokyo metro that killed 12 people and injured up to 6,000, as an example of the technical difficulties involved in carrying out a successful attack.

Aum Shinrikyo is cited in the CRS report as a "good example of a group that had unusually favorable circumstances for producing chemical and biological weapons, including money, facilities, time and expertise, yet they were unable to do so effectively." The Aum Shinrikyo attack was more of a warning to other groups intent on a copycat attack of the difficulties involved then as an example of what to do.

In discussing this attack, a report by the Henry Stimson Center in Washington in October 2000 -- "Ataxia: The Chemical and Biological Terrorism Threat and the U.S. Response" -- found that Aum Shinrikyo scientists "located the agent formulas readily, but no chemistry book gave them detailed instructions about how to work with these exceedingly volatile materials."

Doomsday Visions

A widespread fear is that terrorists will poison a community's water supply. Reservoirs are poorly guarded and a number of BW agents are stable in water. However, the enormous amounts of agent needed to be mixed into the water supply to effectively achieve a terrorist's goal makes this impractical.

The "Ataxia" report states: "Chemicals commonly used to purify water, such as gaseous chlorine and sodium hypochlorite, kill the microbes that cause glanders, plague, Q fever, epidemic typhus, encephalomyelitis, viral hemorrhagic fevers, smallpox, typhoid, and cholera, the most lethal water-borne agent. On its way to the spigot, some of the agent would also bind, nonspecifically, to the pipes."

Another popular scenario is that of a terrorist cell brewing biological agents in their bathtubs or garages. And while such attempts are possible, it is difficult to link them to a mass-casualty attack. The "Ataxia" report notes that about a liter of nerve agent contains roughly a million lethal doses, "but in practice, over a ton of nerve agent would be needed to kill 10,000 people outdoors." It would take a terrorist roughly two years to make enough sarin in a basement-sized operation to kill 500 and another 18 years to produce the ton of gas required to kill 10,000.

The conclusion reached in 1997 by the U.S. Defense Department confirms what many nongovernment experts believe. "Conventional terrorism was far more prevalent, far more harmful, and far more deadly than chemical or biological terrorism. Therefore, if the past is any predictor of the future, terrorist incidents involving chemical and biological substances will continue to be small in scale and far less harmful than conventional terrorist attacks." (U.S. Secretary of Defense, "Proliferation: Threat and Response," (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Defense, 1997).

The Dangerous Future

Terrorism is meant to terrorize and the perceived threat of a biological attack is often more frightening then the probability of such weapons being used. This, however, does not absolve law-enforcement organizations such as Interpol and intelligence services from maintaining a vigilant stance and enforcing nonproliferation agreements, as the Lyon conference intends to underscore.

Presently there are a number of countries suspected of maintaining an active biological-warfare program. The CSIS report mentions Iran, North Korea, Pakistan, Syria, and Israel, among others. The concern is that these states will develop and stockpile agents and that new, genetically engineered agents might be more effective and difficult to detect.

The fear of such biological agents falling into the hands of terrorists willing to use them is bound to increase the popular notion of BW as a "super threat." Reliable research however, shows that while this is not an easy and viable option at present, it is theoretically capable of causing enormous damage.

As to the future use of BW weapons by terrorists, the December 2004 report "Mapping the Global Future" prepared by the U.S. National Intelligence Council contains a warning.

"As biotechnology information becomes more widely available, the number of people who can potentially misuse such information and wreak widespread loss of life will increase," the report said. "An attacker would appear to have an easier job -- because of the large array of possibilities available -- than the defender, who must prepare against them all."