A Kyiv court will pronounce a sentence upon ex-General Pukach on January 29. Did anybody think in 2000 that it would take 12 years and a half to convict the chief perpetrator of the crimes against journalist Gongadze and public figure Podolsky? I doubt it. For instance, it took seven and a half years (quite a few as well) to convict his henchmen rank-and-file perpetrators – ex-police officers Kostenko, Protasov, and Popovych. I wonder how long it will take to convict those who put out the murder contract.
The first attempt was made in March 2011, when Renat Kuzmin, First Deputy Prosecutor General of Ukraine, opened a criminal case against ex-president Leonid Kuchma. As a result of a long face-off, when there were sponsored articles, TV programs, and even movies, when those summoned to court would arrive minutes before the beginning of a session and governmental officials took “warm baths” in Davos and Yalta, Kyiv’s Pechersky Court ruled that Kuchma was not guilty (later, appellate courts upheld this ruling).
But now there is a second attempt. The point is that the Prosecutor General’s Office record, valid since November 2012, when the new Criminal Procedure Code came into force, automatically registered a case about those who ordered the murder of Heorhii Gongadze. On this occasion, Kuzmin said to the newspaper Segodnia the other day: “The case against those who masterminded the murder of Gongadze is being investigated because it is on the Record of Pretrial Investigations. We are sometimes reproached for being slow, but the case is not simple and any thread will always come to the end… And we are certain to finally resolve this case and answer the question of what was the role of Leonid Kuchma in this murder. It is beyond any doubt.”
OLEKSII PODOLSKY: “I DO NOT ACCEPT THE PUKACH SHOW…”
Public figure Oleksii Podolsky was luckier in 2000. Three months before the murder of journalist Gongadze, he was kidnapped and savagely beaten up by the same scenario, but he survived. Since then Podolsky has been not just the aggrieved party in a crime against himself but a living witness in the Gongadze case. He has always been inclined to cooperate with the prosecution and, moreover, has confirmed this with his behavior. He has claimed from the very beginning that both crimes were committed on the orders of the then president Leonid Kuchma.
Podolsky says, among other things, in a statement he handed over to us: “Paradoxically, I found myself involved in the Gongadze case before Gongadze himself, and Kuchma emerged there well before the Melnychenko tapes. In my public address to parliament and law-enforcers, which Yurii Orobets handed out to MPs and the organization ‘We’ sent to all the Ukrainian media on June 12, 2000, I said bluntly that policemen were my torturers, the minister of the interior was the organizer, and President Kuchma was one who ordered the crime. If Ukrainian journalists, human rights watchers, and politicians had paid attention to my case, Gongadze would, in all probability, be living today. Why did they keep silent? They did not want to quarrel with the Kuchma family.”
In 2012 Podolsky abandoned the Pukach trial, saying he refused to take part in a “Pechersk-style closed-door political farce.” Unfortunately, this step also remained in fact unnoticed by politicians and the media in Ukraine and abroad. Yet, in reality, Podolsky’s decision to abandon the Pukach trial in fact delegitimized the latter because nobody can abolish or ignore the status of an aggrieved party.
The crime against Podolsky, all the now known political and legal circumstances around it, and the evidence of the aggrieved person himself could have been invaluable proof for the trial that Gongadze was murdered not because he was an “American spy” but because this was ordered from the very top. The crimes against Gongadze, Podolsky, and MP Yeliashkevych are obviously a regular pattern with a unilinear motivation aimed at those who dared criticize Kuchma. If the court continues to ignore this regularity as it inquires into the Pukach-Gongadze case, this will mean that it did not take into account some important evidence and circumstances.
“Today, too, no one in Ukraine wants to quarrel with the Kuchma-Pinchuk clan over a certain Gongadze,” Podolsky continues. “At best, there can be some blackmailing in order to appease the supposedly oppositional politicians. Even those who solidarized with us yesterday – some Western politicians and journalists – do not seem to notice a shadow alliance of governmental and pseudo-oppositional clans of Ukraine.”
The evidence of Podolsky, as an aggrieved party and a living witness, is also valuable in that he exposes the fact that the same political leadership used a stereotyped gangster-style technique and crime motivation and hired the same perpetrators at approximately the same time.
Although Podolsky categorically objected to further court sessions in the case, where he is the aggrieved party, being conducted in his absence by Judge Andrii Melnyk, the trial was still resumed. Here is our detailed conversation with Oleksii PODOLSKY.
On January 29, the court will impose a sentence on Oleksii Pukach who brutalized and could have killed you, as he did with Heorhii Gongadze. What kind of sentence would suit you?
“What suits me is a fair court ruling. I would like to see a trial that will conduct a judicial inquiry and clarify all the circumstances and, what is more, name and punish the persons who ordered the law-enforcement bodies to persecute people for their right to speak freely. So far, it is a show, not a fair trial. I think the sentence is a foregone conclusion, and what is now going on is just for appearance’s sake. They deferred the sentence for a month in order not to draw attention of the public on the eve of the Davos forum, where the Kuchma-Pinchuk family is putting on a new show.”
Will you be present in the courtroom? How would you assess in general the Pukach trial?
“Yes, I will go there because it is no longer a trial but the passage of sentence. I want to see what this show will end in.
“I want to draw public attention to the fact that there was no trial in the classical meaning of the word. Therefore, I will not accept any sentence of this court. I will be appealing after they read out a decision prepared well in advance. Then, if necessary, I will be seeking justice in European courts. I will go the whole hog.”
As is known, you repeatedly challenged Judge Andrii Melnyk, the one who, incidentally, handled the case of an attempt on the life of MP Oleksandr Yeliashkevych.
“It was clear to me from the very beginning that the trial would be biased. The point is that Judge Melnyk has already falsified a Kuchma case. Eleven years ago he conducted a trial (even though it can’t be, of course, called a trial) about the attempt on the life of Yeliashkevych. It was a show at which neither the aggrieved person, nor the accused, nor witnesses were present. Somebody was found somewhere and reportedly convicted. In other words, it was a travesty of justice.
“As for the Pukach trial, Melnyk in fact refused to conduct a judicial inquiry (the mandatory element of a trial). For example, he withdrew the Kravchenko question altogether. I had said more than once that it was an assassination, not suicide, but he did not want to check it. This trial has never looked into the crime motive. Pukach said in no uncertain terms that Kuchma and Lytvyn were those who ordered the murder [of Gongadze], but the judge refused to look into this. He rejected all our demands, such as to hold an open-door trial, to invite Kravchenko’s lawyers, and make the case materials available. Incidentally, the Prosecutor General’s Office gave me some documents to read, but when they saw that I was reading what they thought I was not supposed to, they immediately denied me access to the case materials. But even what I managed to read showed that the case was a frame-up. I brought this to the judge’s attention, but he again turned a deaf ear to this as well as to our demand that Kuchma be summoned to the trial.
“Melnyk was just fulfilling the instructions about what to do with the crime perpetrator Pukach who was a tool in the hands of the politicians who used violence against society. In a word, he is a longtime judge of the Kuchma family and, hence, has been committing criminal offenses. I twice challenged him, but he never in fact reacted to my demands. This trial used the aggrieved party as stage setting of sorts.”
Why did political circles not demand an open trial of Pukach? Why did they in fact tacitly agree to a closed trial?
“Today, the political force in power wields all the clout. Nothing is being done without its consent. Of course, they pursue their own interests in this case, for they can thus keep the so-called United Opposition in the person of Turchynov and Yatseniuk on a leash. Hence is the answer to the question if the opposition can demand anything. Is it really a ‘new rising generation’ if it is being nursed by Mr. Kuchma? This political force is playing in opposition to pull the wool over society’s eyes and divert its attention from real problems. Turchynov himself is fully involved in this affair.”
Is there any reason why?
“It was reported to Turchynov, as the Security Service chief, in 2005 that Kravchenko was killed, but he said at press conference that it was suicide. It was clear that the Kuchma family was playing up to President Yushchenko, and Turchynov took part in all this. As for Yatseniuk, let us recall what he said to Viktor Pinchuk at one of the Yalta conferences annually organized by the Kuchma family: ‘Viktor, don’t get nervous, you are not an oligarch… You are under the protection of democratic forces.’”
Why did the international community show no reaction when you had to bow out of the trial?
“Maybe, it was to their benefit, for they are playing a game of their own. Western values are usually about civil societies rather than politicians. For example, last year I suggested in a letter to Ms. Reps, a co-rapporteur of the PACE Monitoring Committee for Ukraine, that we meet during her visit to Ukraine to discuss the Gongadze case situation. But she could not find the time to see me.”
Why are you calling on politicians, public figures, businesspeople, and journalists to boycott the events organized by the Kuchma family, including those at the Davos forum and the Yalta conferences?
“Because I think there will soon emerge forces that will bring all this to light – in line with their interests, – and the West will dissociate itself from this family.
“Western politicians will then have to explain to their societies why they mingled with a family that murdered people. I am now cautioning them against doing this. For example, it seems at least strange, if not unnatural, that such well-known and respected people as Kwasniewski, Clinton, and Peres should be friends of the Kuchma family. They are supposed to understand that nothing can ever be hidden in this world. I am strongly convinced that all i’s will be dotted and t’s crossed in the Gongadze case.”
We know you are drawing up the “Podolsky list” on the analogy of the “Magnitsky list.” Who will be on it?
“All the prosecutors who have anything to do with this case. All the people who negotiated a kickback with the Kuchma or Yushchenko families. All those who tried to falsify this case no matter which president was or is in power. In a word, it is investigators, prosecutors, businesspeople, judges, politicians, and even foreigners. In the course of time, the role of each of them in this case will be clearly spelled out.”
VOLODYMYR FESENKO: “THERE ARE TWO SCENARIOS OF THE SITUATION AFTER PUKACH HAS BEEN CONVICTED”
Will convicting Pukach put an end to the Gongadze case contrivers? Naturally, this is the best option for those who ordered the crime, but it is unlikely to occur. Firstly, let us hope that the Ukrainian public and the international community will continue to build up pressure until this case is finally closed. Secondly, there are a lot of forces, in Ukraine and abroad, that are interested in taking advantage of this whole story. “Imposing a sentence on Pukach will put a comma, rather than a full stop, in this case,” political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko comments. “Judging by the statements of some Prosecutor General’s Office representatives, particularly the ones about the Melnychenko tapes, political and legal games around the Gongadze case will only continue.”
On the other hand, the continued use of this tragic story in political and legal games is not to the benefit of this country. The winner in these games can be anybody but society and the state. Domestic elements regard the Gongadze case as a pawn in an attempt to achieve some political dividends, while the foreign ones view it as pretext for blackmailing. This raises a logical question: can there be a way out of this situation at all? When can this happen?
“There are two scenarios of developments,” Fesenko goes on. “The first is a change of political situation in this country. The new leadership may as well invoke this case – not only in political and informational, but also in legal terms. The second is that interest in this case may gradually slide into the historical plane. In other words, the Gongadze case and the Melnychenko tapes scandal will rather look like a historical intrigue or drama – something of the Kennedy assassination kind. All we can say today is that the Gongadze case should be a lesson for all. Everybody should draw conclusions from the angle of national security as well as political morality and responsibility.”
KOST BONDARENKO: “THE OPPOSITION IS ‘DITCHING’ TYMOSHENKO”
While the unfinished Gongadze case has already become part of Ukraine’s contemporary history, another, no less dramatic, story, which is rooted in the more distant “roaring ‘90s,” is unfolding today before our eyes. It is about the murder of Donetsk-based MP and businessman Yevhen Shcherban. He was shot to death in 1996 at Donetsk airport. Also killed were his wife, the flight mechanic, an airport technician, and a customs inspector. In this case, too, only the perpetrators of the crime have been convicted so far. In April 2003 the Luhansk Oblast Court of Appeal imposed a life sentence on Vadym Bolotsky who had killed Shcherban. The other perpetrators of the murder – Oleksandr Milchenko and Yevhen Kushnir – are no longer living. And the Prosecutor General’s Office recently announced that it was ex-premiers Yulia Tymoshenko and Pavlo Lazarenko who ordered the murder. According to Prosecutor General Viktor Pshonka, the Criminal Code article, by which Tymoshenko is being accused, carries life imprisonment. Tymoshenko herself and her inner circle have in turn said it is an absurd accusation.
The situation is further complicated by the fact that Tymoshenko’s criminal cases (in addition to the Shcherban case, there are also the “gas case” and the “United Energy Systems case”) have a direct impact on Ukraine’s foreign policy. International leaders and organizations have more than once accused the current leadership, which declares European integration aspirations, of “selective justice.”
“The term ‘selective justice,’ which was coined in the West, in fact applies not only to Tymoshenko or Lutsenko, but also to many other people and situations,” Fesenko says. “It is really the malady of our judicial system. Unfortunately, as far as all the Tymoshenko cases and accusations are concerned, the foreign policy dimension of the problem is not taken into account. If there are some suspicions that have been made public, they should be investigated, no matter why and how they appeared. The point is not so much in passing a formal judicial sentence as in having to find out whether or not there is evidence. Undoubtedly, these events create a negative atmosphere on the eve of the Ukraine-EU summit.”
Another interviewee of ours, political scientist Kost Bondarenko, also emphasized the importance of evidence. “It is not the same thing at all to debate on whether Tymoshenko was right or wrong to sign gas contracts, whether or not she exceeded her powers, and to accuse the ex-premier of murder,” he says. “If the Prosecutor General’s Office produces really convincing evidence of her complicity in the murder, the world public will be unlikely to indignantly reject these accusations. Everything will depend on the Prosecutor General’s Office argumentation. So far, we do not see these arguments.”
Fesenko also says that conclusions should be made from the tragic Shcherban story. “The Shcherban case is also historical, for it emerged well before the Gongadze case. But, while the Gongadze case at least has some juridical background and the context has radically changed here, the person involved in the Shcherban case remains an active political figure. It is this factor that causes a political stir around this case. In my view, not only juridical, but also general political and moral conclusions should be made here. Unfortunately, when business and political interests get intertwined, this leads to criminal offenses. Incidentally, this also applies to the Gongadze case. This dramatically deforms our politics and economy and, in the long run, pushes us away from Europe.”
We can feel the result of this deformation today. Defending their leader, the opposition often says superficial things without going into a deeper context. In other words, it does not take a fully integrated approach to tackle a problem. For example, in what conditions was privatization conducted in the 1990s? Who shaped the policy at the time, and what were the consequences? What came first – the law or corporate rules? We do not have this. Why?
Fesenko also began with a question: “Why did the government choose, in the Tymoshenko situation, the United Energy Systems and Shcherban cases? I think the greatest benefit for the government is that this exposes a not so attractive side of Tymoshenko’s activities in the past. All those who more or less know the 1990s politics and business, know only too well how dirty and semi-criminal they were. In other words, the public is in fact being shown Tymoshenko’s ‘dirty linen.’ But it is experts who can say this. The opposition cannot apply this tactic of defending their leader because they would in this case admit that they were all like this at the time. They have to shut their eyes to Tymoshenko’s unattractive sides and only speak of the political context of her persecution. Unfortunately, this exactly displays one-sidedness of politics: each of the opponents only says what is to his benefit.”
Bondarenko spoke more harshly: “With all my respect to Tymoshenko’s defense, I must say that Vlasenko has never been a lawyer who pleaded and won criminal cases. He dealt with corporate disputes. Naturally, it is up to Tymoshenko to decide who to trust, but she needs a lawyer with a different specialty. As for Tymoshenko’s political advocates, they are just ‘ditching’ their leader. Why? Because they don’t need her as an active political figure. Held in prison, Tymoshenko is receding far to the background. If we presume that Yanukovych will suddenly decide to free Tymoshenko, he will see a very long line of the oppositionists who will kneel down and ask him not to create problems for them.”
The lack of meaningful and well-considered approaches in Ukrainian politics forces politicians to make the same blunders and, as a result, mark the time, reproducing the old problems. This negative tendency may cause the Gongadze case to last for more than other decade. And in the conditions when the current leadership exerts additional pressure on the opposition by means of criminal cases (the president is concurrently building his own chain of command consisting of people from his inner circle), a question arises: what will the further course of events be? A monarchy? The collapse of authoritarian aspirations? Which side will the pendulum swing to?
“Yanukovych has created a strong enough political regime,” Fesenko answers. “In many dimensions, it looks even stronger than that of Kuchma. The only question is whether he will manage to be reelected. Paradoxically, he will find it more difficult to do so. It was far easier for Kuchma to address the second term problem in 1999, for, in spite of all complaints about the opposition, it is much stronger now than in the late 1990s. In the 2004 elections, the ostensible majority of business elites supported Yanukovych but secretly cooperated with the Yushchenko team. I do not rule out something of the kind in the 2015 presidential elections. The question of business and bureaucratic elites rallying around Yanukovych is a question of his further presidency. Banking on the ‘Family’ and the ‘Akhmetov group’ may turn out insufficient for Yanukovych to win. Besides, there are more negative attitudes to him now than there once were to Kuchma. At the time, people were tired of Kuchma and his regime, which, after all, helped trigger the Orange Revolution, but now many people show the signs of hatred. This emotional background is very dangerous for Yanukovych.”
The high-profile criminal cases that entailed tragedies of individuals and families will leave quite a negative imprint on Ukraine’s contemporary history because they have not only changed the destinies of these people, but also essentially affected the development of the entire country. Unfortunately, the Gongadze and Shcherban cases have become the “hallmark” of this country on the international arena. Ukraine is being pictured as a country that continuously supplies scandals. In the view of Bondarenko, this is not typical of us only. “Other countries also supply scandals. Among them are such European states as Italy and Hungary. We just think that we are the worst on this list, but it is wrong. Europe is looking at Ukrainian scandals through the prism of their frequency, and it is assessing Ukraine’s preparedness to work to check these scandals.” Correcting mistakes is the main task for both politicians and the grassroots. We will not cure our country unless we settle the old scandals. This is bound to occur sooner or later.