6 August 2004, Volume 4, Number 16
THE GONGADZE CASEBy Roman Kupchinsky
This September will mark the fourth anniversary of the killing of Heorhiy Gongadze.
The killing of the 31-year-old journalist, which remains unsolved, has been the subject of numerous international protests and has generated hundreds of articles in the world press. The inability of Ukrainian law enforcement agencies to solve the case has contributed to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's political isolation abroad and has created a prolonged crisis throughout his second term as president.
Now, new information published by the British daily "The Independent" in a series of articles written by frequent RFE/RL contributor Askold Krushelnycky suggests that the case is also one cloaked by a massive cover-up engineered by high-level officials in Kyiv. This information consists of interrogation reports of Ukrainian Interior Ministry officers and other documents obtained by the newspaper and by the National Union Journalists of the United Kingdom and Ireland and published on the website delogongadze.org.
A spokesman for the National Union of Journalists, Simon Pirani, told the BBC, as cited by Interfax-Ukraine on 27 July, that the purpose of creating the website hosting the interrogation protocols from the Gongadze case was to advance the investigation of the case. These documents were confirmed to be authentic by Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Serhiy Rudenko, Interfax reported on 2 August.
Gongadze, who was known for articles that he and his co-workers wrote about corruption at the highest levels of Ukraine's government, disappeared on the night of 16 September 2000. Almost immediately, accusations arose blaming President Kuchma of complicity in the journalist's disappearance. Kuchma and his closest circle had often been mentioned in Gongadze's exposes and therefore Kuchma, in the eyes of many, had good reason to see that Gongadze's activities were ended.
Such fears were fuelled two days after his disappearance when an anonymous caller to the Georgian Embassy in Kyiv told the receptionist that Gongadze (who is ethnic Georgian) could be found in the Kyivsky district of Kyiv and that then Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, Oleksandr Volkov (a close friend of Kuchma's and his campaign manager), and a local district-council deputy named Volodymyr Kysil knew where he was. (In its 22-28 November 2003 issue, the Kyiv-based "Zerkalo nedeli" weekly published an interview with Kysil following a failed attempt on his life. The weekly stated that Kysil, "according to official police statements, is one of the significant bosses in the criminal underworld in Kyiv." In the same interview, Kysil denied any involvement in Gongadze's killing.)
There is no known record of whether the anonymous call to the Georgian Embassy was investigated, or what such an investigation might have found.
Interfax reported on 27 September 2000 that Kuchma had announced that he was taking the investigation under his personal control. Kuchma presumably took this step in an effort to deflect speculation and exhibit his determination to bring the perpetrators of the crime to justice. However, in doing so he also took personal responsibility for future developments in the case.
Shortly afterward, in November 2000, Gongadze's headless corpse was found in a shallow ditch outside Kyiv.
On 28 November 2000, the leader of the Socialist Party of Ukraine, Oleksandr Moroz, told the Ukrainian parliament that he had in his possession recordings made in the president's office and that these recordings showed that Kuchma discussed Gongadze with former Interior Minster Kravchenko and Leonid Derkach, who headed the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) from 1997 to 2001.
Those tapes included a 10 July 2000 conversation featuring voices resembling those of Kuchma and Kravchenko that brought to mind the disappearance in Chechnya earlier that year of RFE/RL Russian Service correspondent Andrei Babitskii. Babitskii's reporting on the war in Chechnya had angered the Kremlin for some time and many observers blamed the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) for engineering his kidnapping.
"I tell you, get him out, throw him out, give him to the Chechen's [expletive], have him become a hostage, let them pay a ransom for him," the online daily "Ukrayinska pravda" (http://www2.pravda.com.ua/) quoted the voice as saying. "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch" was told by parliamentary deputies Taras Chornovil, Hryhoriy Omelchenko, and numerous other people who had met with and spoken to Kuchma at length that the voice was Kuchma's.
"We will think it through," answered a voice believed to be Kravchenko's. "We will do what is needed.... I was told today that we are preparing a program for him. We are studying his movements, where he goes. We need to learn this and then we will act."
Kravchenko was apparently describing the surveillance of Gongadze that the Interior Ministry was conducting in July and that continued up to the day of his disappearance, according to new revelations in the documents published by the website delogongadze.org.
Kuchma, Kravchenko, and Derkach have for years denied that any such surveillance took place, and have long maintained that the recording made in the president's office are fakes.
On 15 January 2001, Yuriy Lutsenko, the editor of the newspaper "Grani," published an article in which he wrote that Interior Ministry officers from the Organized Crime Unit were involved in the surveillance of Gongadze. A few days after this disclosure, a number of Interior Ministry officers were interrogated by the Prosecutor-General's Office, which at the time was headed by Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko. Transcripts of these interrogations were never released, but the confidential documents obtained by Krushelnycky include transcripts of the same Interior Ministry officers conducted in June, July, and August 2003 -- under the oversight of newly appointed Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun -- that indicate the officers were pressured prior to their first interrogation to deny surveilling Gongadze.
The confidential documents include testimony from Major Serhiy Chemenko in which the officer describes how in January 2001 he was coached by a high-ranking Interior Ministry official, Lieutenant General Oleksiy Pukach, the head of the Criminal Investigation Division, on how to answer questions that would be posed by Prosecutor-General's Office investigators. According to Chemenko's signed testimony included in the documents, he was not asked any questions and merely told to sign the transcript of his original interrogation, which states that there was no surveillance of Gongadze.
However, according to the documents, Chemenko told investigators during questioning on 19 June 2003 that surveillance did, in fact, take place.
The transcripts of testimony that day record Chemenko as saying: "Concerning the surveillance of Gongadze it took place in the late summer-early fall. Normally, such surveillance lasts 10 days, but in his case it lasted longer.... This surveillance lasted up to the day of his disappearance.... Our work was coordinated by [Pukach's deputy Volodymyr] Bernak.... After our shift ended, we prepared a report on our day's activities which everyone on the shift signed and it was sent to our section head."
Investigator: "Why did the deputy head of the division, Bernak, coordinate the work of the surveillance team following Gongadze?"
Chemenko: "For some reason the surveillance of Gongadze was given a very high priority. Even the head of the Main Administration of the Criminal Investigation Division, [General] Oleksiy Pukach himself took part in the field work."
During an interrogation held on 11 June 2003, Volodymyr Yaroshenko, identified in the documents obtained by Krushelnycky as a police officer, also described surveillance of Gongadze.
The transcripts of Yaroshenko's testimony quoted him as saying, "First of all, I want to admit for the first time that surveillance of Gongadze H.R. took place and that I personally -- as an employee of the Main Administration of the Criminal Investigation Division of the Interior Ministry -- took part in it."
This testimony also serves to corroborate the authenticity of the secretly taped audio recordings of conversations that are believed to have taken place in Kuchma's office.
In 2001, Bek-Tek, a private audio laboratory in Virginia headed by a former FBI audio forensics specialist, determined that the audio recordings regarding the surveillance of Gongadze were genuine. Later, in 2002, the FBI's forensic audio laboratory came to the same conclusion when it examined a different segment of the recordings dealing with a conversation between what is believed to be Kuchma and the head of the state arms sales company during which Kuchma allegedly expressed his intent to break the international arms embargo and sell Iraq a highly advanced Kolchuga radar system.
However, the official position of Kuchma, who by then had assumed responsibility over the investigation, and of the Interior Ministry was that the tapes were fake. The Prosecutor-General's Office under Potebenko commissioned its own examination of the recordings, and found them to be fakes. Potebenko claimed that those who made the recordings edited together phrases uttered by the men heard on the recordings in an effort to compromise them.
The investigation of the Gongadze, the authorities maintained, was steaming along at full speed.
DESTROYING THE EVIDENCE
As the new, more vigorous, investigation under Piskun in the summer of 2003 was well under way, on 16 July 2003 the Prosecutor-General's Office officially requested that the Interior Ministry send over a set of files pertaining to the Gongadze investigation. According to the confidential documents, the files that were requested included official work assignments for the year 2000. These were particularly important, as they could possibly corroborate the testimony of those officers who admitted taking part in the Gongadze surveillance during the summer and fall of 2000. Also requested were reports of the surveillance that officers testified were signed by members of the surveillance teams.
Further testimony outlined in the confidential documents suggest that a decision was made by General Pukach's superiors to deliberately destroy the requested files -- possibly because they sensed that the information contained in those files could discredit them or point a finger directly at the persons suspected of ordering Gongadze's murder. Among the documents which were destroyed, according to the documents on delogongadze.org, were work-assignment sheets showing that officers had been assigned to follow Gongadze.
Among the documents are records of testimony given to investigators on 28 October 2003 by Anatoliy Osypenko, an officer in the Criminal Investigation Department of the Interior Ministry, in which he reiterated statements he had made to investigators on 13 October that same year.
In his 28 October testimony, Osypenko claimed that on 16 July 2003 he was told to prepare a set of files requested by the Prosecutor-General's Office pertaining to the Gongadze case. He said he began pulling these files but could not complete this task due to a lack of personnel having the needed security clearance to gain access to them. He was not allowed to use employees of his section since the investigator for the Prosecutor-General's Office insisted that nobody working for Pukach's unit be granted this task, according to Osypenko's testimony.
The following day, 17 July, Osypenko and the investigator went to see Pukach about the files, according to the confidential documents. Pukach told the investigator that he had orders "from above" not to give him the requested files.
Shortly after 20 July 2003, these same files were the topic of a conversation in Pukach's office, according to testimony provided by Ludmilla Levchenko, named in the documents obtained by Krushelnycky as one of Pukach's assistants. The documents include transcripts of testimony Levchenko gave on 10 October 2003 to Prosecutor-General's Office investigator Yuriy Hryshchenko.
The transcripts quote Levchenko as saying: "During a meeting in the office of Lieutenant General Oleksiy Pukach, we had a conversation in which he stated that it was imperative to bring him the work assignments of employees of the Criminal Investigation Division from 2000. He studied them and said that they were to be destroyed since the dates on the documents indicated that they no longer needed to be stored.
"I replied that their term for safekeeping had not yet expired and they were to be stored until January 2004 when they could be legally destroyed.... Pukach insisted that all the documents be destroyed."
Investigator: "Were there any questions about the fact that these files had been requested by the PGU [Prosecutor-General's Office] and were vital. If there were, who understood this and what was Pukach's reaction to this?"
Levchenko: "When I was in Pukach's [office] and he was giving the order to destroy these documents, I asked him if this would create a problem since the documents had been requested by the PGU. He did not give a direct answer and only said that their term for safekeeping had expired and that they were to be destroyed."
The files (Case No. 23, inventory numbers 3598, 3599, and 3600) were destroyed soon afterward in the special facility maintained for this purpose in the town of Obukhov, according to Levchenko's testimony.
After the interrogations of Levchenko and Osypenko, the Prosecutor-General's Office arrested Pukach on 23 October 2003 on charges of destroying evidence.
A week later, the president's commission on corruption met and angrily stated that Prosecutor-General Piskun was guilty of "large-scale corruption." The commission unanimously recommended to the president that he be fired from his position, which he was the following day.
A week after Piskun was fired, Interior Ministry Lieutenant General Pukach was released from prison after signing a pledge not to leave the country. According to the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, he was picked up at the entrance to the jail by a limo with parliamentary license plates.
After a few months, Kuchma appointed Piskun to become the deputy head of the National Security Council.
Included among the confidential documents that form the basis of this report is a report of a secret autopsy performed on Ihor Honcharov. Honcharov, a former Interior Ministry officer, had been arrested on criminal charges by the Interior Ministry in May 2002.
After his arrest, Honcharov's lawyer managed to smuggle out of prison letters by his client that were published on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 6 August 2003. Honcharov wrote that he was ordered not to testify against other Interior Ministry officers and that he had been tortured and beaten in prison. He died on 1 August 2003 and was cremated very soon afterward. The cause of death was officially announced as "illness."
According to Krushelnycky's article in "The Independent" of 19 June: "The autopsy and tests performed for the government by six experts shows Honcharov was injected with Thiopental, which the experts say probably led to his death. Doctors have told 'The Independent' that there would have been no legitimate medical reason to use the drug."
Insight into what Honcharov might have know was revealed during the interrogation of an individual named Valeriy Melnikov conducted on 14 April 2003 by an investigator from the Prosecutor-General's Office.
Transcripts of testimony included in the confidential documents quote Melnikov as saying: "Honcharov told me that People's Deputy [Oleksandr] Volkov had contracted the murder of Gongadze because he had written a very unfavorable article about Volkov and the president. On his own initiative he [Volkov] turned to Kysil, with whom he was a long-time friend.
"Gongadze was killed by members of the 'Kysil' brigade, there were three of them along with Honcharov's informant, a driver that they used," Melnikov said. "From Honcharov I learned that two of them soon left for the Czech Republic and the third was murdered under suspicious circumstances in Kyiv."
The identity and the whereabouts of the driver is still unknown.
A great deal has been written in the Ukrainian press about the activities of Kysil, the district-council deputy targeted in a November 2003 assassination attempt in which his car was blown up.
In an article titled "Everything About Alexander Volkov," published on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website 11 days before the journalist's disappearance, Gongadze wrote: "Our hero [Volkov] was born and grew up in the Stalin district of Kyiv. Alongside him grew his friend -- the Kyiv criminal 'authority' Kysil. Kysil was sentenced five times for serious crimes and from the very beginning had a strong influence on Volkov."
The article further alleged that Volkov and Kysil had been in business together in Kyiv.
As Kysil's name kept popping up in conjunction with the killing of Gongadze, Volkov did not deny that they knew each other, but hastened to add that he was not responsible for Kysil's actions.
THE UNDERCOVER AGENT MUZYKA
More revealing information about the killing of Gongadze was provided in testimony given to investigators on 5 June 2003 by Interior Ministry officer Hryhoriy Serhiyenko, the head of the Interior Ministry's operational-information-collection department.
According to transcripts of testimony included in the confidential documents, when Serhiyenko was asked if he was involved in ordering his subordinates to trail Gongadze, he said that he did give such orders and that he had received his orders from Pukach directly and from one of his deputies, whom Serhiyenko identified only as Svyatenko. The third person who gave Serhiyenko instructions and whom Serhiyenko characterized as the "curator" of the Gongadze operation was another of Pukach's deputies, identified in the confidential documents as O.D. Prulipko.
Serhiyenko went on to tell the investigator from the Prosecutor-General's Office that during the funeral of a former official of the Interior Ministry, he was approached by Pukach, who told him to forget the name Gongadze and anything that "we were involved in concerning him."
Shortly after receiving this advice from Pukach, Serhiyenko claimed, he was ordered by Prulipko to destroy all the documentation held in his section. Prulipko stated that this was old material and needed to be destroyed, according to testimony. The order was carried out.
Then Serhiyenko provided a stunning revelation, telling the interrogator, "I decided to help the investigation by making available information that I have about the involvement of a concrete person involved in the actual killing of the journalist Gongadze H.R."
According to Serhiyenko's testimony, Oleksandr Kruzhanivsky -- a former officer of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Ukrainian military and a former undercover agent for the Interior Ministry's Main Directorate for combating organized crime -- told him that the person directly linked to the killing of Gongadze was an undercover Interior Ministry operative named Oleksandr Muzyka. According to Serhiyenko's testimony contained in the documents obtained by Krushelnycky, Muzyka personally told Kruzhanivsky that he was involved in the killing of Gongadze.
Muzyka had been assigned to work undercover with Kysil, in whose group he rose to a high rank, according to Serhiyenko's testimony.
When asked by "RFE/RL Organized Crime and Terrorism Watch" about the present whereabouts of Muzyka, a member of the parliamentary committee investigating the disappearance of Gongadze replied that he did not know.
THE CASE TAKES ON NEW URGENCY
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry's reaction to the series of articles on the Gongadze case published in "The Independent" was fast and furious.
The most dramatic and least expected response was the announcement on 22 June that the Interior Ministry had the killer of Gongadze in their custody. He was identified only as "Citizen K" and was described as a serial killer who had confessed to killing Gongadze. "Citizen K" had apparently been arrested on other charges and while in custody confessed to killing the journalist, along with a number of other victims.
According to the "International Herald Tribune" of 23 June, Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office spokesman Serhiy Rudenko said: "During questioning, the man said he had committed the murder of Gongadze. His statement fits the circumstances of the murder at the time and other key moments which are already in the public domain.... He said he had decapitated [Gongadze]."
This claim was met with considerable skepticism. Gongadze's widow, Myroslava, who currently works as a freelance journalist for RFE/RL, responded to the announcement by telling "The Independent" of 26 June: "This shows the cover-up is continuing." Presidential candidate Oleksandr Moroz requested the Prosecutor-General's Office to provide more information about the case at the same time expressing his skepticism as to the conduct of the investigation in an article published on the "Ukrayinska pravda" website on 4 August.
Rudenko next said that it had been determined that Honcharov died as a result of a beating he received in prison and that a criminal case had been opened against the prison authorities where he was being held. Rudenko added that "all other versions of Honcharov's death are not official," "Ukrayinska pravda" reported on 21 June. No mention was made of the Interior Ministry's original explanation that Honcharov had died of "illness."
The following day, 22 June, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced that it was considering opening a criminal case against those individuals (or individual) who passed over the documents obtained by Krushelnycky and cited in his article written for "The Independent." According to Interfax on 22 June, the Prosecutor-General's Office's press service released a statement that stated that the "promulgation of part of the evidence collected in the criminal case has already left a negative impact on the course of the investigation and posed a real threat to some people."
A somewhat less confrontational tone was adopted on 25 June by Vasyl Baziv, the deputy head of the presidential administration. Baziv commented on allegations that Kuchma was involved in the killing by saying, "I believe the philosophy of democracy and freedom must not cancel the fundamental basis of Roman law introducing the presumption of innocence." He was also quoted by Interfax on 25 June as saying that the articles in "The Independent" were a pre-election provocation, despite the fact that nowhere had there been any allegations made that any of the current presidential candidates were involved in any way in Gongadze's killing.
Meanwhile, President Kuchma -- who took the Gongadze investigation under his personal control from its very beginning and who at no point announced that he had relinquished that control, has remained silent about these new revelations in the case.
MODERN-DAY GEISHASBy Tereza Nemcova
This year, the Czech media has been full of stories about Czech women earning large sums of money working as hostesses and "geishas" in Tokyo and Yokohama. While some returned home with positive stories about their experiences and generous financial pay packets (a weekly salary for a "beginner geisha" can be up to $1,000), others told horror stories about their escape from near slavery and exploitation.
Working as a modern-day geisha became a lucrative job in the 1980s, when Japanese society began offering new opportunities for Japanese women, and the tradition of the geisha was dwindling slowly. Around that time, young women from Central and Eastern Europe began traveling to Japan to take jobs as late-night companions for wealthy Japanese men, pouring them drinks, lighting their cigarettes, laughing at their jokes, or singing karaoke with them. The description of the job as a "hostess" and the fact that no sexual favors were required of them attracted many women that were in difficult financial situations.
In the 1990s the situation changed and cases of sexual exploitation, forced labor, and even the disappearance of women were reported. For example, the case of 21-year-old Lucie Blackman, a British citizen working in Tokyo as a hostess, who disappeared in July 2000. Her headless body was found in February 2001 buried in a sea-side cave in Misaki, some 45 kilometers from Tokyo. Her head was found encased in a concrete block.
Japanese police believe that the most probable cause of her death was the so-called "dohan," a lunch date with a client followed by a visit to the club that employs the girls. The suspect in her case was Joji Obara, a wealthy 53-year-old Japanese property developer who is accused of rape resulting in her death. According to "The Times" of London on 26 February, Obara first pleaded not guilty of all charges, but then reversed his plea to guilty of serial rape. He is also charged with six other rapes and druggings, as well as complicity in the death of 21-year-old Carita Ridgeway from Australia, a hostess who died in a Tokyo hospital of hepatitis in February 1992, according to "Japan Today" on 29 November 2003.
According to advertisements on Czech websites, the average monthly salary of a hostess is around 180,000 Japanese yen ($1,600) -- this amount, however, is dependent on the number of dohans and how often the women are directly requested by a specific customer. Women can also be fined for misbehavior or being late for work.
Most foreign hostesses arrive in Japan on a tourist visa and then overstay the limit, which makes it almost impossible for them to turn to local law-enforcement agencies for help if they are being mistreated. Fearing deportation, they remain silent. In other cases, their passport is detained by the employer for "safekeeping" to prevent them from fleeing.
Various agencies have been established in Europe and Australia to assist hostess job seekers and to advise them on how to attain a job after their arrival or put them in direct contact with a future employer in Japan. In the Czech Republic an undisclosed private company has been operating for over six years, cooperating with another undisclosed Australia and Japan-based company, which perform such counseling activities. Due to the fact that hostessing in Japan is illegal, these companies advise the women to obtain a tourist visa to enter Japan. They specifically advise women not to bring any documents regarding future employment, to bring a travel guide and maps of Japan, a camera, and to make a hotel reservation -- all so they won't be denied entry.
According to Velisarios Kattoulas, writing in the "Far Eastern Economic Review" in August 2003, nightclubs are under the strict control of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia, which has alleged connections to some Japanese politicians.
The U.S. State Department's "2003 Human Rights Report" states that agents, brokers, and employers involved in trafficking for sexual exploitation often have ties to organized crime in Japan. According to the report, Japanese NGOs and lawyers alleged that individual police officials returned trafficking victims to their employers when these individuals sought police protection, or declined to investigate suspected brokers when presented with information obtained from trafficking victims.
The potential danger of becoming a geisha or an exotic dancer in Japan is underestimated in many countries of Central and Eastern Europe, such as the Czech Republic, and young women from these regions are more likely to become the target of trafficking, exploitation, or sexual slavery. There are many reasons these young women go to Japan -- to make good money, cultural curiosity about Asia, and in many cases naivete.
The State Department's report says that the Japanese "Constitution prohibits holding persons in bondage, and the Penal Code contains several provisions that could be used to combat trafficking in persons; however, there are no specific laws that prohibit trafficking in persons." The report also recognizes that "women and girls from Thailand, the Philippines, and Eastern Europe were trafficked into the country for sexual exploitation and forced labor."
The report further states that reliable statistics were unavailable, but that during the year 2002, the Japanese National Police Agency identified 55 women as potential trafficking victims during criminal investigations involving the entertainment business, and 28 individuals were prosecuted as trafficking brokers. The complication of the situation of trafficked women lies in Japanese law, which does not, according to the report, consider an individual who has willingly entered into an agreement to work in the country to be a victim of trafficking, regardless of that person's working conditions once in the country.
As a result of a Japanese government-funded study released in 2000, it was revealed that nearly two-thirds of foreign women surveyed following their arrest for immigration offenses stated that they were working in the sex industry under duress. The U.S. report further states that, in 2002, approximately 69,986 women from the Philippines entered into Japan on legal entertainment visas, which indicated that they may be less vulnerable to abuse by employers than female migrant workers entering illegally or on other types of visas. The report confirms that, according to some NGOs, most women who were trafficked to the country for the purpose of sexual exploitation were employed as hostesses.
It was confirmed to RFE/RL by the press office of the Czech Police Security Policy Department and the Czech Institute for Criminology and Social Prevention that during the course of 2003, dozens of female Czech citizens have contacted the Czech Embassy in Tokyo for help in relation to their occupation in Japan. This has happened despite the Internet warning published on the website of the Czech Embassy in Japan.