A former senior Belarusian Interior Ministry official has vouched that a 2012 audio recording that allegedly spells out plans to kill several opponents of leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka in Germany is authentic.
Ihar Makar, a former deputy commander of the Belarusian Interior Ministry's counterterrorism unit, said the tape allegedly of a former top Belarusian KGB officer was "fully authentic."
"I have 100 percent proof that the tape is authentic. Firstly, the tape underwent an audio forensics test; secondly, my anonymous source, who spoke directly with the individuals recorded on that tape and who knows all the details of the recorded conversation, can testify in court," Makar told Current Time, the Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with Voice of America.
The online newspaper EUObserver on January 4 published details of a recording of what it said was the Belarusian KGB security service in 2012 discussing plans to kill a total of four opponents of Lukashenka.
The fresh revelations come as Lukashenka, in power since 1994, faces months of protests demanding he step down following a disputed presidential election in August 2020.
Crisis In Belarus
Read our ongoing coverage as Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka ramps up pressure on NGOs and independent media as part of a brutal crackdown against protesters and the opposition following an August 2020 election widely considered fraudulent.
Nearly 30,000 people have been detained, and hundreds beaten in detention and on the streets, in the postelection crackdown by the government.
The EU and United States refuse to recognize Lukashenka as Belarus's legitimate leader and slapped him and senior officials with sanctions.
Makar told Current Time he was the one who provided the EUObserver with a copy of the audio recording and that the voice on the tape was Vadzim Zaytsau, at the time the chairman of the Belarusian KGB.
On the tape, Zaytsau was said to be briefing members of a special KGB elite counterterrorism unit -- Alfa Group -- about killing three opponents of Lukashenka then living in Germany – Aleh Alkayeu, a former prison director; Uladzimer Baradach, an ex-riot police commander; and Vyachaslau Dudkin, a former anti-corruption police chief.
The audio also includes discussions on killing Belarusian-born Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, a critic of Lukashenka.
The attacks on Alkayeu, Baradach, and Dudkin never took place, but the plot discussed allegedly would have involved the use of explosives and poisons, the report said.
Sheremet was subsequently killed by a car bomb in Kyiv in 2016. Ukrainian police said on January 4 that they were investigating the fresh documents and recordings, which, if confirmed, would increase suspicions that Belarus's KGB was involving in Sheremet's death.
Three Ukrainian suspects are on trial in Ukraine in connection with the killing but the authorities have not established who ordered it. The suspects deny wrongdoing.
"I obtained the tape from my anonymous source in 2012. I did not try to do anything with this tape right away because it was impossible to change the situation in Belarus then. And most likely my life would have been in danger if I did it. However, in the recording I heard the name of my close friend, Aleh Alkayeu and therefore I turned to the United States asking for help," Makar said.
"As far as I understood then, the United States offered help because the police in Germany offered Aleh Alkayeu bodyguards and warned him not to leave Germany as his life was in danger."
According to Makar, U.S. officials informed the Belarusian Foreign Ministry then that Washington was aware of Minsk's plans to assassinate Lukashenka's opponents abroad, and urged the Belarusian authorities to abandon them.
"And after that Alyaksandr Lukashenka removed...Zaytsau from the post," Makar said.
Makar also said that he had evidence proving Minsk's plans to assassinate an outspoken Lukashenka critic, Russian political observer Andrei Suzdaltsev, who was declared persona non grata and deported from Belarus in 2006.
"The part [about plans to kill Suzdaltsev] is not in the recording but my source can confirm it in court.... I hope very much that the Russian Federation will react to that. I also hope very much that the world community will react to that, especially Europe and America. And I think we will be able to defeat this dictatorial regime in our native country, Belarus," Makar said, adding that he and his supporters will try to bring the case to court at The Hague.
The EUObserver report said that an expert from a NATO country confirmed to the online newspaper that the voice in the recording very much sounded like the voice of Zaytsau.
It "sounds like the same guy," a contact from a NATO country's intelligence service who was familiar with Zaytsau and who examined the bugged audio file for EUObserver, told the website.
Alkayeu wrote a book titled Shooting Brigade in which he revealed details of Lukashenka's "punitive units." He also told RFE/RL that police in Berlin in 2012 offered to provide him with bodyguards, saying they had obtained information about possible Belarusian KGB plans to kill him.
According to Alkayeu, Lukashenka's regime would have wanted to target him because he was a key witness in the disappearances of several political figures in 1999-2000.