“Surprises” are underway. Incidentally, two-convocations MP Oleksandr Yeliashkevych forecast them earlier this year. This was mainly about the Kuchma family and the Gongadze case. In January, it was a life sentence to Oleksii Pukach, the chief perpetrator of the murder of Gongadze and the beating-up of Podolsky. On February, it is what follows.
On February 20, Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin announced in an interview with Moscow Echo radio that a new investigation was being conducted into who ordered the murder of Heorhii Gongadze. “I personally signed the old decision on Kuchma, but old law provisions allowed a suspect to appeal against the [prosecutors’] decision via a court,” Kuzmin said. The deputy prosecutor general noted that the judge had dropped the case because the Melnychenko tapes, which he, Kuzmin, used as evidence, “were a dubious history of origin.” “Under the new procedure, we registered a resolution and launched an investigation into who ordered the murder,” Kuzmin said. Asked if they will manage to prove that Kuchma ordered the murder, Kuzmin said: “We have sufficient evidence to prove Kuchma’s complicity in this crime, and we are now investigating the case and gathering all kinds of other evidence.”
Concurrently, as is known, the Kyiv Court of Appeal interrogated witnesses in the “Shcherban case,” where Yulia Tymoshenko is suspected of having masterminded the MP’s murder. At first glance, society is supposed to know very much about those times, but the witnesses’ testimony is revealing new details of the 1990s. It becomes clear where the roots of today’s problems are. One of the testimonies is that of Volodymyr Shcherban, Donetsk oblast governor at the time (pravda.com.ua).
Volodymyr Shcherban claims that, in the very first month of working in the Cabinet, Pavlo Lazarenko was trying to persuade him to allow the United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU) into Donetsk oblast. “From time to time, he bothered me with essentially the same question of whether or not we would be taking gas from the UESU, to which I would always reply in the negative.” According to the ex-governor, inspectors would regularly come to the oblast from the Prosecutor General’s Office, the Security Service (SBU), and the Interior Ministry. He linked all these actions with Lazarenko’s intention to discredit him and exert pressure in the UESU case. Shcherban says that in 1996 Kuchma personally requested him on the phone to support Lazarenko’s candidature for the office of prime minister. “In 1996 I led a big parliamentary faction, Socio-Market Choice, and the question of Lazarenko’s appointment might depend on my faction’s attitude,” he says.
Volodymyr Shcherban and Pavlo Lazarenko last spoke seriously about the UESU in the summer of 1996, when the latter was the prime minister. Shcherban says the conversation lasted from 23:30 “practically until dawn” near a flowerbed in the Cabinet’s patio. “The main subject of the conversation was why I did not agree to the UESU supplying gas to the Donetsk region. I was categorically refusing all the time. We spoke in an excited tone, and then Lazarenko said he would remove me from office and ‘bury’ me well before the end of autumn. He also said I would wish I hadn’t come into the world. I treated this as a threat of murder because Oleksandr Momot had been killed shortly before, and I was totally sure that the murder was masterminded by Lazarenko and Tymoshenko to serve the business interests of the latter who was involved in the deliveries of natural gas to the Donetsk region,” he says.
Another important piece of news. The abovementioned online publication reports that Judge Andrii Melnyk, who presided over the Pukach trial, has been demoted. He “no longer holds the office of deputy chairman of the Pechersk District Court.” His job was taken over by a no less known, in the Tymoshenko case, Judge Kirieiev who sentenced the ex-premier to seven years in prison for her role in the “gas affair.” It is also known that Melnyk is now on vacation.
We have repeatedly written about Judge Melnyk mostly in connection with his “achievements” in settling Kuchma-era problems. As is known, Melnyk also “solved” another high-profile case – the manhandling of Oleksandr Yeliashkevych – as long ago as 2002. It is, of course, difficult to call it a trial because there was neither the aggrieved person nor the suspect there and the court ruling was about a fictitious criminal. The numerous PACE recommendations on the necessity of a fair investigation of this case still remain unfulfilled.
Very few journalists have noticed that it is Oleksii Podolsky, the aggrieved party in the Pukach case, who laid the groundwork for the latest decision about Melnyk. He has always emphasized that Judge Melnyk had no right to conduct the trial of Pukach – first of all, due to the notorious falsification of the Yeliashkevych case. The Pukach trial also confirmed this. It was a closed trial which examined neither the motives of Pukach’s crime nor the “Kravchenko case.” All the requests of Podolsky to challenge Judge Melnyk were turned down. As a result, the aggrieved person had to boycott the trial. Podolsky also filed a petition to the Prosecutor General’s Office about Melnyk’s infractions.
Was Podolsky heard indeed? Speaking to us, he called the news about Judge Melnyk a serious blow to the Kuchma family. Incidentally, it was recently reported about philanthropic plans of Viktor Pinchuk, one of Ukraine’s wealthiest people. He pledged to invest a half or more of his wealth in charity projects during and after his lifetime. Pinchuk has joined the Giving Pledge, a philanthropic campaign launched by Bill Gates and Warren Buffet in 2010.
Oleksii, you’ve been trying to get Judge Melnyk called to account. So this has been done, albeit partially. What do you think about Melnyk’s demotion?
Oleksii PODOLSKY: “Melnyk’s demotion shows that his attitude is not quite in line with the current leadership’s policy. For example, failure to summon Kuchma to the trial at least as a witness, counters the current line of our political leaders. It is clear from this and other indications that the political leadership intends to ‘make short work’ of Kuchma and his family. Melnyk in turn not only failed to be guided by the government’s instructions, but also acted in line with his own old ties with the Kuchma-Pinchuk family. I don’t know what this relationship is based on, but the judge was deliberately doing everything in favor of those who supposedly ordered the crime. In all probability, he coordinated his actions during this trial, which also had a political side to it, with them rather than with the current leadership. This is why he was fired. Melnyk worked as one who served the interests of Kuchma, not as a judge. I have filed a petition to the prosecution office about this judge’s offenses, and there also is direct evidence of judicial falsification in which he was involved. So, if necessary, an investigation can be launched into his misdeeds. Everything will depend on the political decision in this case.”
Commenting on the dismissal of Melnyk, Myroslava Gongadze’s lawyer Valentyna Telychenko said that, in spite of her criticism of the sentence and the closed nature of the trial, she has no professional complaints about Andrii Melnyk. “The trial’s drawbacks were caused not so much by the court’s performance as by the way the Prosecutor General’s Office worked when it was returning the indictment,” she said. Would you comment?
“Valentyna Telychenko’s attitude surprises me. She is not consistent enough. When I was filing a complaint about Judge Melnyk’s bias, both Telychenko and Fedur, Lesia Gongadze’s representative at the trial, backed me. Besides, when a sentence was passed on Pukach, Telychenko lodged an appeal to the effect that no investigation was carried out about the instigators and witnesses Kuchma and Lytvyn were not summoned to court. We also waged a long struggle for an open trial. We filed dozens of petitions about additional investigation into what caused the death of Kravchenko. The motives of Pukach’s actions still remain unsolved. Melnyk used to reject all the proposals that concerned the true instigators. And now Telychenko is saying she has no complaints about the judge.”
It was reported that Viktor Pinchuk would make available at least 50 percent of his wealth for philanthropic projects as part of the Giving Pledge campaign. What do you think this means?
“Pinchuk is trying to enlist the support of the West. He wants to be useful for the Ukrainian authorities of any caliber and color by being able to serve his country’s interests in the West. However, any morality – Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox – does not accept bloodshed. If one has a tarnished reputation, his or her abilities to lobby on the international arena and strength of contacts with the West will depend on the way this case unfolds. Even those who want to deal with them are refusing to do so, for they will not be understood in their home countries. The Kuchma family is nicely greasing the wheels of a creaking cart. But does grease always matter? Should the axle break, nothing will help.”