Last week saw an abortive attempt to compromise the current leader of Ukraine’s parliamentary election race, former Premier Viktor Yushchenko. Yushchenko’s political rivals attempted to make the most of a published transcript of an intercepted phone conversation between him and Kyiv Mayor Oleksandr Omelchenko to question Yushchenko’s moral integrity.
On January 8, the web site of obscure organization called Honesty in Politics (www.nedovira.com.ua) issued a transcript of two wiretapped conversations Yushchenko and Omelchenko had on December 13. The two were discussing the no-confidence vote against parliamentary deputy speaker Viktor Medvedchuk, which was scheduled for several hours later (see the Monitor, December 18). A nervous Omelchenko scolded Yushchenko for being slow in organizing support for the motion. It might thus be concluded that the two men played a pivotal role in Medvedchuk’s ouster.
On January 9, journalists were invited by Dmytro Ponamarchuk, one of the leaders of the anti-Yushchenko opposition in the right-wing Rukh and an activist of Honesty in Politics, to listen to the record. Ponamarchuk said that he had publicized the tape in order to show that Yushchenko had violated the principles of the honest political play he was professing. Yushchenko therefore did not deserve, Ponamarchuk maintained, to be the leader of the center-right coalition Our Ukraine, which includes the bulk of the Rukh. Ponamarchuk refused to disclose how he had gotten his hands on the tape.
But the tape was clearly not of the same caliber as the one publicized by Socialist leader Oleksandr Moroz in November 2000, implicating President Leonid Kuchma in the disappearance of journalist Georgy Gongadze. There was nothing criminal in Yushchenko’s and Omelchenko’s intent to defeat a political opponent by constitutional means. Nor were the two men reluctant to admit to their discussions. On December 10, Omelchenko confirmed that the conversations had indeed taken place. He then announced that he intended to file suit for invasion of privacy. Yushchenko did the same a day later.
It is unclear who was responsible for the wiretapping. The security service (SBU), the police and Yushchenko’s cellular communications service each officially denied any involvement. At the January 9 press conference, Ponamarchuk hinted that he received the record from Yushchenko’s camp. Later on, he said that the tape had been left for him in a Kyiv cafe. Kyiv Prosecutor Yury Haysynsky, whose office launched a criminal investigation into the matter on January 11, made it clear that Ponamarchuk and those responsible for the actual tapping were likely to face prison sentences.
As of yet, no one has claimed or admitted responsibility. Rukh for Unity (RU)–a splinter group that refused to join Yushchenko’s bloc and to which Ponamarchuk recently defected–denied any relation to the record. The RU did not authorize Ponamarchuk to make statements concerning the record or to publicize it, according to the party’s January 9 statement. The Reforms and Order party, a pillar of Yushchenko’s bloc, accused powerful allies of the RU and the United Social Democrats (USDP) of masterminding the scandal. On January 10, the USDP denied this and threatened everyone who would support “any insinuations aimed to discredit the party” witha lawsuit. The USDP also denounced use of “black technologies” in the Rada campaign. Yet the media tied to USDP have been in a minority among Ukraine’s mainstream media offering either neutral coverage of the scandal or sympathizing with Yushchenko and Omelchenko. Inter TV and the dailies Kievskie Vedomosti and Den openly sided with Ponamarchuk. The USDP is in a difficult position also because its long-time animosity towards both Yushchenko and Omelchenko is a known fact.
All major political players have denounced the wiretapping. Premier Anatoly Kinakh called it “absolutely inadmissible.” Parliamentary Speaker Ivan Plyushch said that it showed that “confidentiality does not exist in this country.” Parliament reacted on January 10 by passing a law on confidential communication and requesting the SBU to determine whether such confidentiality can be technically guaranteed.
The provocation, having been met with contempt at home, was ignored by foreign media. Its organizers–if found–will face prison sentences for privacy violations. It would therefore seem that the scandal is unlikely to do much damage to either Yushchenko’s or Omelchenko’s reputation (Ukrainian television and newspapers, January 8-12).
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