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Corruption Watch: February 14, 2002

14 February 2002, Volume 2, Number 6
"The specimen...recordings are consistent with being clone recordings, and there are no indications of alterations or edits to the audio data.... Based on the flow of speech in the five designated portions, no phraseology or sentence structure was pieced together by using individual phonemes, words or short phrases..." These were the conclusions reached by the Virginia-based firm BEK TEK after analyzing those segments of conversations purportedly held in the Ukrainian president's office in the summer of 2000 and taped by his security guard, Mykola Melnychenko. The segments given to BEK TEK were those which dealt with Heorhiy Gongadze, the independent journalist who was murdered in the fall of 2000.

BEK TEK's finding were announced at a press conference held on the air on 7 February by the Ukrainian Service of Radio Liberty. Participants to the press conference included Oleksandr Zhyr, the head of the parliamentary commission investigating the killing of Gongadze and other journalists, and Melnychenko. Zhyr's commission had contracted BEK TEK to analyze the taped conversations. The firm is headed by Bruce Koenig, a 25-year veteran of the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigations and a renowned specialist on forensic examinations of audio and media and authenticating recordings, both analogue and digital.

In November 2000, Oleksandr Moroz, the leader of the Socialist Party of Ukraine, revealed in the Ukrainian parliament that he had in his possession copies of recordings secretly made in the office of the president, Leonid Kuchma. These recordings, he claimed, proved that President Kuchma and his closest advisers had been plotting to "remove" Gongadze, the editor of Internet publication "Ukrainska Pravda." (Gongadze had been missing since September 2000 and was presumed dead.)

In what was to become known as "Kuchmagate," the recordings released by Moroz presented a damaging portrait of the president. A voice similar to the president's was heard plotting with top law-enforcement officers against a journalist who had exposed high levels of corruption in the upper reaches of the Ukrainian government. "Take him to [the] forest, remove his pants!" the president appears to tell them. "Give him to the Chechens," he yells, with expletives strewn throughout the recordings.

Soon Moroz released other tapes that seemed to reveal complicity in criminal activities by the head of the Ministry of Interior (MVD), the head of the Intelligence Service (SBU), the head of the State Tax Collection Agency, and the prosecutor-general.

Initially the President's Office stated that the tapes were fake. Then in a volte-face, they conceded that they were authentic but had been altered in places so as to present the president in a negative light. The president denied ever making any statements about Gongadze and asserted that he did not even know who the journalist was. Soon a videotape was uncovered of Gongadze confronting the president on a national TV program, seemingly contradicting the president's claim.

Prior to BEK TEK's findings, no laboratory verifying the Melnychenko recordings would make a 100 percent claim that they had not been tampered with. Only an examination of the original or cloned recordings and the equipment used to make the recordings could provide the unequivocal answer. BEK TEK was given access to those items and now has reached its conclusion.

There had been no comment regarding BEK TEK's findings from the administration of President Kuchma by the time this report went to publication.

The Bulgarian cabinet adopted a Program for Implementation of the National Strategy Against Corruption and established a Commission on Coordination of the Anticorruption Effort on 7 February, BTA news agency reported the same day. The commission, whose membership has been finalized, will be chaired by Justice Minister Anton Stankov, while State Administration Minister Dimitur Kalchev will be deputy chairman. The commission will consist of a deputy minister of interior, a deputy minister of justice, the vice president of the National Audit Office, the director of the Public Internal Financial Control Agency, the director of a financial intelligence bureau within the Ministry of Finance, the director of the National Customs Agency, and the chief of the Inspectorate Division of the General Tax Directorate at the Finance Ministry, Kalchev said.

The commission will be tasked with analyzing and consolidating information about actions taken against corruption and the results of the anticorruption effort, the state administration minister said. The newly established commission will be able not only to record cases of corruption, but also to demand action from other specialized bodies and institutions such as investigative, prosecutorial, judicial, or police authorities. The commission's powers will thus be considerably broader, Kalchev explained. Unlike the Committee Against Crime and Corruption (popularly known as the "anti-mafia committee") in the previous National Assembly, the newly established commission will report to the government, Kalchev stressed, and its operation will be absolutely transparent. Kalchev expressed the hope that this commission will be more efficient "because the anti-mafia [committee] did nothing."

Czech and German customs officers and policemen have arrested 17 alleged members of an international drug gang, the Czech daily "Mlada fronta Dnes" reported on 25 January. The individuals are accused of smuggling the Czech-made synthetic drug pervitin and were picked up at the Pomezi-Schirnding border crossing and in the areas of Nuremberg, Benesov, and the capital, Prague.

A pervitin lab in a family home near Benesov was also discovered. "During a raid on that house, a 23-year-old Czech woman was caught as she was drying a freshly produced dose of the drug in a warm oven," Juergen Thiel, head of the joint antinarcotics group of policemen and customs officers from northern Bavaria, said in Schirnding. The suspected head of the gang, a 29-year-old Czech national, has also been detained.

Home to more than 7,000 Chechen refugees and rebels who escaped from the conflict, the Pankisi Gorge in eastern Georgia has established itself as a major criminal center in the country. Writing in "Eurasia View" on 29 January, Jeffrey Silverman, the editor of the "Georgian Times" in Tiblisi, described the conditions that have contributed to the condition. Silverman wrote:

"The Chechen fighters' distracting presence provides cover for illegal activities by various operators, including some with ties to official Tbilisi and Moscow. The drug business is the glue that connects the breakaway regions such as South Ossetia, Abkhazia, and other parts in the Northern Caucasus."

Drug traffickers in the region have linked up with local law enforcement agencies and the situation was described thusly: "[T]he drug business is in the hands of the local police and anyone arrested is quickly freed by just one phone call to a well-placed member of the Parliament from Tbilisi."

The dangerous situation has led the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNHCR) to suspend deliveries of humanitarian aid into the gorge. "Eurasia View" makes the point: "The Georgian Parliament, meanwhile, is making political hay from the unrest in the Pankisi Gorge. It has called for banishing Russian peacekeepers or rewriting their mandate. Implicitly, Parliament could squeeze the president by investigating and exposing corrupt activity among Georgian security forces in the area."

Police in Tehran seized 1,114 kilograms of morphine and 91 kilograms of other drugs, and arrested 13 people who were intending to smuggle the contraband from Afghanistan to Turkey via Iran, the deputy head of Tehran's anti-drug police, Qader Karimi, told Iranian news agency IRNA on 7 February. Those arrested were suspected members of an international drug-trafficking network who were transiting the narcotics, stashed among fertilizers, in two trailer trucks, he said.

Six key members of the gang were arrested last week in Tehran and seven others in the northeastern Khorasan Province, he said, adding that Interpol has been notified to search for more members of the network outside Iran. He put the total value of the confiscated drugs at 30.3 billion rials ($18 million) in Iran and 70 billion rials ($40 million) in Europe.

Karimi further said that police had arrested five alleged members of a drug-trafficking and distribution network in Tehran during the past two days and confiscated 70 kilograms of hashish. Tehran police arrested six people for distributing a consignment of drugs from the southeastern city of Zahedan, and seized 21 kilograms of opium, he said.

More than 47,000 drug traffickers and 14,734 addicts have been arrested in the past 10 months, Karimi said, adding that police in Tehran had eliminated 246 drug-trafficking gangs in the same period. Iran is situated on the crossroads of the international drug trade that originates in Afghanistan and Pakistan and stretches to Persian Gulf states, Europe, and beyond.

Britain has accused Syria of illegally importing and selling millions of barrels of Iraqi oil in the most serious violation of United Nations sanctions against Iraq since 1990, AP's Edith Lederer reported on 29 January. The accusation represents the first time that Syria, which joined the UN Security Council at the beginning of the month, has been directly confronted with the oil-smuggling charge. Syria has repeatedly denied it is importing Iraqi oil through a pipeline that had officially been closed for nearly 18 years. But Britain has charged that Iraq is currently shipping over 100,000 barrels of oil a day through the pipeline.

The Iraqi oil allows Syria to increase its oil exports without any corresponding increase in its own domestic oil production, a British official speaking on conditions of anonymity was quoted as saying. The official said that if the pipeline were run at full capacity, it could pump 200,000 barrels a day, generating $1 billion a year in illegal revenues.

Britain submitted newspaper accounts of the Syrian oil imports from Iraq to the Sanctions Committee but said the sharp increase in Syrian oil exports since late 2000 is sufficient evidence. (David Nissman)

The Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) rejected allegations made by the Italian weekly "Panorama," according to which Romania is financing terrorist organizations, Romanian Pro TV reported on 6 February. In the 5 February edition of the weekly, "Panorama" said Romania was the center of financing for certain organizations involved in trafficking arms and radioactive materials from Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region. The same paper says the SRI is aware of related shell companies with ties to Arab countries. Marius Bercaru, the SRI spokesman, stated that on no occasion has the SRI supported shell companies that transferred millions of dollars to terrorist organizations in Iraq, Egypt, Lebanon, and Syria.

The fight against corruption got off to a bad start, Prime Minister Adrian Nastase told members of the central executive bureau of the ruling Social Democratic Party (PSD), Romanian Pro TV reported on 6 February. The anticorruption effort turned into a hunt for corrupt people in other parties, he added. The prime minister said the fight against corruption is not one for the PSD alone. Neither is it a fight against the Democratic Party, the National Liberal Party, or the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania. The government has decided to take action against corrupt individuals and their political affiliation is of no importance, Nastase stressed.

In the view of 59 percent of Russian citizens, Russia is among the 10 worst countries in terms of corruption among state officials, Interfax news agency reported on 31 January. Another 14 percent believes it is between 10th and 50th place in this regard, and only 5 percent suppose Russia is among the world's least corrupt countries. The Public Opinion Foundation released the findings after conducting a representative poll of 1,500 urban and rural citizens on January 26.

According to the poll, 49 percent are convinced that the majority of officials in Russia are corrupt, and 15 percent think all officials are corrupt. Eighteen percent of respondents take the view that only half of Russian officials are corrupt, and only 7 percent believe that a minority of state officials are involved in corruption.

When asked in what services, organizations, and institutions corruption is most widespread, 55 percent named the police, customs, and law-enforcement agencies, 36 percent said traffic police, and 37 percent fingered the courts and Prosecutor-General's Office.

Russian law enforcement uncovered a terrorist group in the Daghestan region of Russia, Interfax reported on 31 January. The discovery came during an investigation into the 18 January explosion in Makhachkala of a truck carrying soldiers in which eight men were killed. Daghestan Prosecutor Imam YarAliyev said at a session of the republic's parliament that confessions provided by detainees showed that the terrorist group numbered more than 30 guerrillas, and was headed by one Rappani Khalilov of Daghestan. The discovery of the group made it possible to combine over 10 criminal cases. Specifically, Khalilov's gang reportedly was responsible for the explosion of a railroad in Makhachkala on 4 September. On 22 and 25 September, the guerrillas planted explosive devices on a tree and a lamp-post near highways coming out of Makhachkala that Daghestan Interior Ministry officers found and neutralized.

One suspected drug dealer was killed and another seriously injured in an armed clash with police in Trsic, Belgrade Radio B92 reported on 1 February. Forty kilograms of heroin was confiscated, the largest amount in the past 10 years in the region. During the operation, an exchange of gunfire took place between the drug dealers and police. The alleged dealer, Stanko Terzic of Prijepolje, died, while his suspected accomplice, Branimir Pantelic of Loznica, was seriously injured. The area between Republika Srpska and Serbia has been closely monitored since a drug route leading on to Western Europe was discovered.

The Ukrainian parliament, according to the RFE/RL Ukrainian Service, voted on 5 February to support a resolution by the "Anti-Mafia" grouping in parliament and has requested the Prosecutor-General's Office to open a criminal case against President Leonid Kuchma and two other former officials. The parliamentarians are claiming that Kuchma, when he was prime minister in 1993, together with Anatoliy Lobov and Yukhym Zvyahilskyy stole 12 million German marks. The parliament also requested that prosecutors investigate the killings of people who had knowledge about corruption in high places.

Trade sanctions imposed by the United States on Ukraine took effect on 23 January. The sanctions, according to RFE/RL correspondent Ron Synovitz, are aimed at pressuring Kyiv into taking strong action to eradicate compact-disc piracy. The cost of these pirated CD's to the international music industry is $180-250 million a year, according to antipiracy groups. Washington estimates that the sanctions will cost Ukraine about $ 75 million, while authorities in Kyiv claim that they expect to lose as much as $470 million. Import tariffs of 100 percent have been imposed by the United States on such Ukrainian exports as fuel oil, unprocessed aluminum, titanium dioxide pigment, and shoes, among other products on a list of 23 categories of goods.

According to Maria Jovanovich, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Kyiv, this is a "very important issue to the United States. This question also goes to the heart of Ukraine's integration into Europe and into the global community." Jovanovich told RFE/RL that Washington will be more lenient toward lifting the sanctions than in previous cases against other countries: "The U.S. trade representative has said that they are willing to make an exception and will lift sanctions when Ukraine passes a strong law. In other words, before it is actually implemented."

On 17 January, the Ukrainian parliament passed a law, "On Regulating Business Activities Related To The Manufacture, Export, And Import Of Laser Discs." However, that law relaxes the stringent licensing and monitoring requirements that were originally proposed. The International Intellectual Property Alliance (IIPA) criticized the approved legislation as ineffective. IIPA's regional director for Eastern Europe, Stefan Krawczyk, told RFE/RL that a conservative estimate of the damage caused to the recording industry is $180-200 million. He noted that while CD factories in Ukraine are all private firms, the companies are operating in facilities rented from the Ukrainian military; thus, the Ukrainian government is indirectly earning money from CD piracy.

Sources in Ukraine charge that the son of former Prime Minister Vitaliy Masol controls a large share of the pirated-CD market in Ukraine. Some also charge that pirate-CD vendors regularly bribe Interior Ministry inspectors. The damages are not from the sale of pirated CD's in Ukraine, but from the millions of counterfeit CD's exported to markets across Eastern and Central Europe, the European Union, North America, and Latin America.

Speaking in Kyiv after the sanctions were announced, Ukrainian Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets said he doubted the existing facilities in Ukraine were able to produce the volume of pirated CD's Ukrainians of which firms are accused.