Melnychenko returns to Ukraine, testifies in secret to prosecutor

by Yana Sedova
Kyiv Press Bureau

KYIV - After a five-year exile, Mykola Melnychenko returned to his native Ukraine, where he caused an international scandal by releasing secret recordings of top government officials, which he made as a former security officer of President Leonid Kuchma's.

During his first week in Ukraine, Mr. Melnychenko became a media sensation, drawing a hoard of reporters when his plane touched down at Boryspil Airport on December 1.

In his only other distinguishing act, he arrived at the Procurator General's Office to provide secret testimony.

He returned to Ukraine with fellow U.S. asylum winner Oleksander Yeliashkevych, a former Verkhovna Rada deputy and victim of former President Leonid Kuchma's regime. Mr. Yeliashkevych was severely beaten in Kyiv in 2002.

On the Melnychenko tapes, a voice similar to Mr. Kuchma's proposes giving the maverick politician a beating to Hryhorii Surkis, an owner of the Dynamo Kyiv soccer club.

The main purpose of their return is to ensure that "Kuchma and his criminal group are punished," Mr. Yeliashkevych said.

However, he said he and Mr. Melnychenko did not bring any additional documents that might help in the Heorhii Gongadze investigation and added that the Procurator General's Office (PGO) already has all the materials.

Moreover, at a December 5 press conference, Mr. Melnychenko didn't make any revealing statements and gave obscure answers to all questions.

Verkhovna Rada Chairman Volodymyr Lytvyn became the main target of Mr. Melnychenko's accusations.

"Lytvyn often states that he hadn't a single motive and that Gongadze wasn't dangerous to him," he said. "I stress that Lytvyn had personal motivations to hate Gongadze." Mr. Melnychenko said personal relations with a woman motivated Mr. Lytvyn, however he didn't offer any names.

At the press conference, Mr. Melnychenko also ran into his former colleagues, his fellow colleagues who used to work with him at the Presidential Administration's Security Service.

They were there to attack and discredit him, alleging that Mr. Melnychenko had no possibility to install any recording device in Mr. Kuchma's office.

Moreover, not a single person could have entered the president's office alone in accordance with the Security Service's strict instructions, said Volodymyr Kosariev, the former deputy commander at the Presidential Administration. Therefore, another security official always accompanied Mr. Melnychenko always, he said. If he truly made the recordings, it was as part of a conspiracy, Mr. Kosariev stated.

"When Melnychenko worked here, just imagine how they went in," Mr. Kosariev said. "One person stood in the doorway, and Melnychenko went in once every three days or even once a week. Tell me, how could he have put a recorder under the couch (by himself)?"

However, Mr. Melnychenko refuted the statement and said he "personally put a recorder under a couch (in Mr. Kuchma's office) and took it from that place."

One conspiracy theory that has resurfaced has it that the recordings must have been ordered by unknown political forces, either in Ukraine or Russia, so as to discredit Mr. Kuchma.

However, Mr. Melnychenko reasserted that nobody ordered him to tape the conversations. "Not a single country, special service or a physical person asked or ordered me to document Kuchma's crimes," he said.

Mr. Melnychenko also stated he has no intention of taking in parliamentary elections to the Verkhovna Rada next year. He said he has no desire to be in the Verkhovna Rada and see the face of Mr. Lytvyn or any of the other national deputies for that matter.

Mr. Melnychenko failed to win a deputy's mandate during the 2002 election campaign because the Central Election Committee denied his registration as a candidate from the Socialist Party of Ukraine.

On October 19, 2004, the European Court of Human Rights ordered the Ukrainian government to give Mr. Melnychenko $5,000 in moral compensation for violation of his universal right to be elected. However, he said he refused to take the compensation.

Despite his rock-star-like arrival, Mr. Melnychenko will hardly play any significant role in the parliamentary election campaign of 2006, said Mykhailo Pohrebynskyi, chair of the Center for Political Research and Conflict Studies, which is funded by Russian banks and private Ukrainian organizations. "He considers himself a gambler on the political stage and overestimates himself," Mr. Pohrebynskyi said.

Discrediting Mr. Lytvyn, who is among those suspected of ordering the Gongadze murder, could be the real reason behind Mr. Melnychenko's return to Ukraine, Mr. Pohrebynskyi said.

Despite the fact that Mr. Melnychenko denied that he sold his tapes to anybody, Mr. Pohrebynskyi alleged he definitely sold his recordings, without mentioning to whom.

Russian billionaire Boris Berezovsky, who is exiled in London, claimed earlier this year that he had bought some of Mr. Melnychenko's recordings. "There were many Ukrainian secrets (on the tapes)," he said. "If we had a democratic state, prison would be the only future for him."

Andrii Shkil, a national deputy and close associate of Yulia Tymoshenko, escorted Mr. Melnychenko and Mr. Yeliashkevych during their flight from Moscow to Kyiv on December 1.

Mr. Shkil explained this as a personal initiative to provide security to Mr. Yeliashkevych, who didn't obtain such security from the Ukrainian government.

Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 11, 2005, No. 50, Vol. LXXIII

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