16 January 2001, Volume 3, Number 1
UKRAINEKUCHMA'S FORMER BODYGUARD INTERVIEWED BY RFE/RL.
On 29 December 2000 and 9 January 2001, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service broadcast live interviews with Mykola Melnychenko, a major in the reserve of the Ukrainian Security Service and a former presidential bodyguard, who provoked an enormous political scandal in Ukraine by publicizing the tapes that allegedly prove President Leonid Kuchma's complicity in the disappearance of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 and 19 December 2000). On both occasions, Melnychenko contacted the Prague-based studio of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service of his own choice and spoke by telephone in the live program called "Vechirnya Svoboda" (Evening Radio Liberty). Following are excerpts of the interviews with Melnychenko translated from the transcriptions that were published in the Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda" (http://www.pravda.com.ua) and at the RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service Internet site (http://www.rferl.org/bd/uk/ukrainian/).
The 29 December interview
Question: You said a lot during your meeting with the deputies (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 December 2000). What would you like to add about the main issues?
Answer: If this information [ed. note: taped secretly by Melnychenko in Kuchma's office] had not been publicized, in six months' time one would have to give up for lost democracy [as well as] human freedoms and rights in Ukraine. There were plans in the president's entourage to destroy Ukraine's Supreme Court and other bodies that did not comply with the president's wishes and whims.
Q: What do you mean by "destroying the Supreme Court"? Execution by shooting?
A: The Verkhovna Rada [the parliament] had to pass a law following the president's instruction to make the Supreme Court (ed. note: Melnychenko does not finish this phrase). ...You see, the Supreme Court was standing in the president's way because it was not controlled by him. It was performing the duties it had to. And the president gave instructions to work out a law that would allow him to control courts as well. And he said it was necessary to get rid of Boyko, chairman of the [Supreme] Court.
Q: Mr. Melnychenko, now, under such extreme conditions, you are living day-to-day, but it is also necessary to think about the future. Tell us please how do you see your future -- both near and far?
A: As to my near future -- I am coming back to Ukraine under any circumstances. I think this will happen very soon even if I'm sure that power structures [Ukrainian: sylovi struktury] will do everything possible to prevent me from coming back alive. And I'm sure that the people of Ukraine will overcome this evil and will come out of this situation with dignity.
Q: A version appeared in some circles in Ukraine that Yevhen Marchuk is involved in all this [tape scandal]. Can you deny this?
A: I want to tell you that Yevhen Kyrylovych [Marchuk] is one of the, or more properly, his organization is the most decent among those in Ukraine. I mean the Council of National Security and Defense.
Q: People are assessing your deed ambiguously. Some consider you a brave man, a hero, and think you can be a model for many people. Other people -- and there are a lot of them -- consider you literally a traitor not only to the president, to whom you did not swear an oath. They think you betrayed officers' honor and even that of Ukraine because you have provoked a scandal that does not contribute to Ukraine's prestige. How can you respond to those people?
A: I am considered to be a traitor by those people who are involved in crimes. I have in mind many power ministers, governors, and the president's entourage. I "betrayed" because I know where the people's money was transferred -- billions of dollars. I betrayed the president's interests while he was laundering [money], giving instructions how to build his dachas for four million, for seven million. I betrayed [his] interests. But there are also the interests of the people who work in factories and plants that the president ordered shut down only because of his political ambitions. For instance, there is an oil refinery in Kherson, and the "Interagro" firm in Kharkiv. The president of Ukraine, for example, calls [State Tax Administration head Mykola] Azarov and says: stifle him because he works not for us but for another person. The stifling begins, jobs are destroyed, taxes not paid. So, whom did I betray?
Q: [Journalists speculate] that there are some oligarchs behind this affair who want to discredit Leonid Kuchma in order to take all the power in their hands in a way that could appear legal at first sight. The names of [oligarch and lawmaker Hryhoriy] Surkis and [parliamentary deputy speaker Viktor] Medvedchuk are mentioned [in this context]. What can you say in this regard?
A: This is absurd. The idea that Surkis and Medvedchuk could give an instruction [to secretly tape Kuchma] is absurd. As far as I know, both Surkis and Medvedchuk are not interested in Kuchma's exit.
Q: You say that there are other officers like you in the power structures. Let us assume that all this story will lead nowhere. What further actions can be taken by the people that share your views?
A: In any case, democracy will win. The president will no longer be able to order the closure of, for instance, "Silski visti," the "Polityka i kultura" magazine, "Grani," or "Zerkalo nedeli". ...And I'm convinced that those sums that were stolen -- I can show from where they were taken and to whom and for what purpose were transferred -- should return to Ukraine, at least part of them.
Q: Do you have any information about the accounts into which some Ukrainian citizens deposit their money?
A: I won't answer this question. I can only say that I have information about many millions that were illegally taken from some firms, and that the president of Ukraine knows about that. Incidentally, [that was done] on his instruction.
Q: Is this documented in some way?
A: This is on microcassettes, on chips. And there is also information that the illegal business is being continued. I can say that Kuchma is very afraid that some facts connected with [former Premier Pavlo] Lazarenko may be revealed.
Q: Can you tells us which facts?
A: There are facts. Prosecutor-General [Mykhaylo] Potebenko can tell you about them in a more detailed manner. There was a conversation between Potebenko and Kuchma. Potebenko took fright when there was a large probability that Lazarenko could be extradited to Ukraine [from the U.S.]. You can ask him [Potebenko]. [I know] the day and hour when he spoke about this. These facts are documented, as well as other facts regarding [Premier Viktor] Yushchenko, Kostenko, and the eavesdropping on Marchuk, there is everything.
Q: What specifically about Mr. Yushchenko? Can you tell us now?
A: I can. The president gave an instruction -- I quote literally -- to destroy Yushchenko. This was said on 30 March to one of the governors. Following this, they [the governors] were to prepare letters that they are dissatisfied with Yushchenko's work. And there was also an instruction to a number of ministers to write a statement that they are not able to work in such conditions.
Q: Do you think that to destroy Yushchenko meant to organize an attack on him, to sack him, or to literally destroy the man?
A: I only quote the president's words that I documented, and he gives an instruction: "I'll destroy Yushchenko." [ed. note: phrase in quotations marks is in Russian]
Q: Did he say that in Russian?
A: One time in Russian. And the second time he said "znyshchyty" [Ukrainian: to destroy].
Q: What could you respond to Mr. Bezsmertnyy [Kuchma's official representatives in the parliament] who says that he knows well the sofa under which your dictaphone was planted, [adding that] its it impossible to place or hide anything under [that sofa]?
A: If Mr. Bezsmertnyy agrees to broadcasting his conversations with expletives on Radio Liberty, [I'll release] one conversation where he says that it is necessary to drive [former speaker Oleksandr] Tkachenko out of the parliament. The dictaphone was where I said it was -- under the sofa.
Q: When you applied for that job, did you think that everything was clean there? Those were the corridors of power! You surely knew that there might be various developments, didn't you? Why did you go to work there at all?
A: A rhetorical question. Why did I go and what have I learned? You know, I accompanied a businessman on his way to the president, he was carrying a gift for the president worth $5 million. I can't tell you his name. I can only say that it was related to Zhytomyr. To pay wage and pension arrears, one needs some 5 or 6 million hryvni [ed. note: not specified to what economic sector or category of employees], while the president receives a gift worth $5 million -- Scythian gold. And that businessman says: yes, I have [already] given gifts worth $3 million, that was small change...
Q: How much attention did the president pay to Heorhiy Gongadze?
A: This incident [with Gongadze] ultimately exhausted my patience. I can't say the president attached great importance to Heorhiy, but he paid attention [to him] more than once. Those journalists who praise the president around the clock are automatically included in his favorites. But Kuchma, in my opinion, is not a courageous man. He fears journalists who criticize him. His favorites are given financial support. As for the newspaper "Den," which remained hostile to him during the [presidential election] campaign, he ordered more than once to halt the subscription for it. Horror! He personally fights against people. Not only against journalists, I can mention dozens of people who, following Kuchma's instruction, were fired from the army, the Security Service of Ukraine, the Prosecutor-General's Office....
The 9 January interview
(There was a link between the studios of RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service in Prague and Kyiv during Melnychenko's interview. The Kyiv studio hosted lawmaker Serhiy Holovatyy and independent journalist Iryna Pohorelova during the program. The program was moderated by Oleksa Boyarko in Prague.)
Boyarko: Mr. Melnychenko, 10 days ago you touched upon last spring's plan in the Ukrainian president's office "to destroy Viktor Yushchenko," according to Leonid Kuchma's words you quoted. This passage has stirred particular interest in the Ukrainian media, and not only in the media. What else can you say about how the premier's lot was discussed in the presidential office?
Melnychenko: The plan was discussed with the Donetsk Oblast governor, and there were the words: "Yushchenko wants me to sack him. I will not sack him, I will destroy him once and for all." And then those steps were made to destroy Yushchenko politically.
Boyarko: Do your tapes not contain the information that the president subsequently gave up that plan?
Melnychenko: No, there is no such [recording]. There were time frames mentioned that he [Yushchenko] should work only until the end of 2000, while in the beginning of 2001 he should be replaced.
Boyarko: Replaced by whom, please?
Melnychenko: There were different names, one of the most... Azarov. The head of Ukraine's Tax Administration.
Boyarko: Were there other names mentioned?
Melnychenko: This is not essential.
Boyarko: Mr. Melnychenko, the first tape, which was made public by Oleksandr Moroz, mentions Radio Liberty. The point is that the situation around Radio Liberty is rather strange. Over a long time, we have been noticing the activity of special services around Radio Liberty. It is not connected only with the fact that you, Mr. Melnychenko, contacted us, it started earlier. Special services seek direct contacts with RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service employees. As people say, [the secret service] "sounded out" Service Director Roman Kupchynskyy in the first place. A special service representative came to Prague for a "heart-to-heart" talk and openly said that the service is rather disliked by the presidential administration and personally the president. And he warned [Kupchynskyy] that unless the tone of our programs changes, "softens," those at the top will make every effort to drive Radio Liberty out of Ukraine's broadcasting sphere... Mr. Melnychenko, you have touched upon this issue, [haven't you]?
Melnychenko: I think I can clearly demonstrate to you the attitude of the president to Radio Liberty. I am switching on... [ed. note: a tape is being played] Could you hear?
Boyarko: The audibility was rather poor, could you retell [the recording] to our listeners?
Melnychenko: The president phones the committee responsible for frequencies and says: "Who is responsible for frequencies in your [committee]? This committee... Tell me, how much do the BBC and Radio Liberty pay for using our frequencies compared to world [prices]? Prepare me an official memo. We need to bring pressure on them [expletives], don't we?" These were President Kuchma's words.
Pohorelova: ...[Some believe] that following your [29 December] interview with Radio Liberty, or even before it, you were found by representatives of the Security Service of Ukraine and they set some conditions for you, and you complied with them. But later you changed your mind and had the interview with Radio Liberty, and therefore a criminal case was opened against you [for slander]. Can you explain your reasons [for publicizing the tapes] in a detailed way? There is a comment in "Zerkalo nedeli" that you left [Ukraine] because of family circumstances...your child's illness. And that [this disease] is allegedly the reason for your step that you made against the state for money. ...Everybody in Ukraine wants to know who is behind you...
Melnychenko: I understood your question. My choice was prompted by my conscience. There are no political forces or oligarchs behind me. Why was a criminal case opened after the interview with Radio Liberty? I have not had any particular contacts with the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), but I have information that many people have been sent and large sums allocated to find and prevent me from entering Ukraine. Following that interview where I said "yes, I'm coming back to Ukraine," and some time frames were determined, a criminal case was opened to prevent me from coming and becoming a witness.
Boyarko: Mr. Holovatyy, do you support Mykola Melnychenko's intention to come back to Ukraine in the near future? Will this [return] produce any results, and is it realistic?
Holovatyy: I would not like Melnychenko to come back to Ukraine right now, because there is a system in Ukraine for destroying people who tell the truth. Melnychenko belongs to those who made public the truth about Kuchma, [Interior Minister Yuriy] Kravchenko, [SBU chief Leonid] Derkach, and other criminals, about [Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo] Potebenko, who is a collaborator in crimes in Ukraine. Therefore, after Melnychenko appears in Ukraine, they will put him into a solitary confinement cell, break his limbs, put out his eyes, or skin him, as they skinned the body they found near Tarashcha [ed. note: according to genetic tests, Gongadze's body with a probability of 99.6 percent]...
Boyarko: We tried to contact politicians in the Verkhovna Rada who are [Kuchma's] supporters. ...Our correspondent Mayya Nahornyak spoke with Kateryna Vashchuk, a representative of the pro-presidential caucus "Revival of Regions."
Vashchuk (from a tape): Why should we believe Melnychenko unambiguously and disbelieve the president? Why should we disbelieve the law enforcement bodies today? ...I was in the president's office three times during that period [covered by Melnychenko's recordings]. During the three visits I discussed problems of the agrarian sector. Let [Melnychenko] give me an excerpt of my conversations if it was recorded. I will know then if his tape is authentic...
Melnychenko: I have recordings of conversations of Mrs. Vashchuk with the president, and I would like to ask the [parliamentary] committee and Mr. Holovatyy [to attest] the authenticity [of those recordings]. If Kateryna Vashchuk agrees --do you understand what I'm saying? -- to take a sample of the president's voice from his conversations with Kateryna Vashchuk. ...Let Kateryna Vashchuk listen to her conversations and say "yes, this is my voice, and this is the president's." And then let the commission [headed by Oleksandr] Lavrynovych take this sample of the president's voice and compare it with the sample where he gave instructions [to get rid of Gongadze]. I propose this way...
Boyarko: Very well, then Kateryna Vashchuk can become a witness in this case.
Melnychenko: Not only Kateryna Vashchuk. Dozens of people who were within the last year in the president's office can become witnesses. ...There were a lot of people's deputies in the president's office, journalists who were there and now present themselves in public as Gongadze's friends...[Lawmaker] Taras Chornovil can confirm [my words]. ...He was in the president's office. ...They discussed political issues about the Rukh, about the split and unification of the Rukh...
[Ed. note: In a statement sent to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Taras Chornovil confirmed that he discussed the above-mentioned issues with Kuchma in the latter's office.]
Boyarko: As you know, Mr. Melnychenko, the Prosecutor-General's Office has [recently] opened a case against Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko. Do you have recordings confirming that this [case] was planned earlier?
Melnychenko: Yes, I have. I can also prove that this [case] was fabricated to make Yushchenko do what Kuchma needs. This is a peculiar sort of blackmail and pressure on Yushchenko. There are recordings [documenting] how that was being handled, worked out, and why that was done...
Boyarko: Excuse me, Mr. Melnychenko, but don't you have Kuchma's conversations with Putin?
Melnychenko: This is a state secret that I cannot reveal.
QUOTES OF THE WEEK"Let us consider the scenario with an independent candidate [in Belarus's 2001 presidential elections]. From your viewpoint, who will be the most independent candidate, assuming that he wins the elections? Lukashenka. Why? Because, in the first place, I became the president accidentally even then [in 1994]. I have demonstrated during those [past] years that I was not dependent on anybody. Indeed, many in Russia do not like me because I have not allowed the privatization of [my] country. Many do not like me. However, there is the Russian president with whom I have excellent relations. So, [some] may hate me, but I have excellent relations with the new colleague [in the Kremlin]. We support one another like colleagues, like friends, like real brothers. ...Therefore it would be ridiculous if the Kremlin were seeking to replace me. Listen to me, this is absurd." -- Alyaksandr Lukashenka in an interview broadcast by Belarusian Television on 6 January.
"I can't live any longer in this country, my patience has been exhausted." -- Ukrainian lawmaker and former Justice Minister Serhiy Holovatyy, announcing his intention to emigrate from Ukraine. Quoted by Interfax on 11 January.
"We are nearing a period of repression, and as soon as Leonid Kuchma extricates himself from this story [the tape scandal], life will become nasty for all of us." -- Ukrainian journalist Tetyana Korobova, who writes for the opposition newspaper "Grani." Quoted by Interfax on 11 January.