On September 25, the political party Labor Ukraine publicized results of the U.S. investigation into the murder of Ukrainian opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze. Gongadze disappeared in September last year, and his mutilated body was found in a forest near Kyiv in November. The U.S. detective agency, Kroll Associates, failed to answer either of the two questions tasked to them by Labor Ukraine this past March: who murdered Gongadze and was Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in any way involved. Basing their investigation on the scarce evidence they managed to gather, and given the refusal of several key figures to cooperate, the American detectives found no proof of Kuchma’s guilt. This, of course, does not prove him innocent. The Kroll report was, after all, interpreted by some of Ukraine’s mainstream media, which is controlled by Kuchma’s cronies. Regardless, Kroll’s conclusion has no legal value in Ukraine.
Kroll proceeded from the assumption that, if authentic, and in the absence of any other plausible evidence, the scandalous conversations–allegedly recorded by fugitive former presidential guard Mykola Melnychenko in the presidential office and later released on the internet–could corroborate the allegations that Kuchma had ordered Gongadze’s removal. In one of the conversations, someone with a voice resembling Kuchma’s was in fact ordering the kidnapping of Gongadze. The accusations against Kuchma, which sparked mass antipresidential protests in Kyiv late last year, were based on this record. Kroll apparently did not find any other trace and concentrated on examining the authenticity of Melnychenko’s records.
Kroll experts managed to interrogate Kuchma and several other top Ukrainian officials, as well as Gongadze’s friends. They were also allowed to examine Kuchma’s premises to find out whether it was physically possible to phonetap them.
But Kroll encountered several insurmountable difficulties. Ukraine’s former Interior Minister Yury Kravchenko and former Security Service chief Leonid Derkach, dismissed early this year for mishandling the Gongadze case, refused to meet with the detectives. The primary witness, Melnychenko, who was given refugee status in the United States, also flatly refused to meet with them. Melnychenko either was afraid to disclose his exact whereabouts or simply did not trust Kroll, which was hired by a side far from impartial. Labor Ukraine, which has people close to Kuchma among its ranks, including his son-in-law, has been the president’s most consistent advocate ever since the audiotape scandal erupted. Kroll was unable to examine the originals of the famous records, which Melnychenko claims to possess. Neither could it gain access to the “official” copies, which are kept, presumably under lock and key, at the Ukrainian Prosecutor General’s Office.
Thus Kroll was left to study newspaper publications, Kuchma’s office and the copies of Melnychenko’s records available on the internet. Having examined these “transcripts,” the detectives concluded only that it was possible to manipulate such copies in the process of data transfer and that it was impossible to detect such manipulation. They also concluded that recording the conversations with a digital recorder placed under the sofa in the presidential office, as Melnychenko had claimed, was out of the question. At the same time, Kroll confirmed that Kuchma and other top Ukrainian officials had been bugged.
Kroll summed up its investigation by saying that it was impossible to state whether Melnychenko’s records were authentic, and that it had found no other circumstances that might prove Kuchma’s guilt. Addressing journalists on September 25, Labor Ukraine’s leader Serhy Tyhypko said that the Kroll investigation failed because Ukraine’s law enforcement agencies refused to cooperate with them. Although this refusal distressed those in search of the truth, it was entirely within the Prosecutor General’s Office legal discretion. Under such circumstances, Tyhypko said, there was no sense in Kroll continuing the investigation.
Melnychenko is apparently willing to cooperate with independent investigators hired by the Council of Europe, and reportedly sent a letter to that effect to the Council of Europe’s monitoring committee for Ukraine. The committee’s rapporteur, Hanne Severinsen, recommended that the council invite the Ukrainian authorities to set up an independent investigation commission. It is entirely possible, however, that the Ukrainian prosecution and/or Kuchma personally (he has been very critical of the Council of Europe’s stance on the Gongadze affair), would also refuse to cooperate (Ukrainska Pravda, New Channel TV, ICTV, Studio 1+1 TV, September 25; Kievskie Vedomosti, September 27; see the Monitor, December 5, 13, 2000, September 21, 2001).
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