Leonid Kuchma   Letter 16   26-Feb-2001   Fifty Melnychenkos are coming to get you
"There is no greater criminal in Ukraine than Kuchma." Mykola Melnychenko

      February 26, 2001

Leonid Kuchma, President
vul. Bankova, 7
Kyiv, 252005

Leonid Kuchma:

If Mykola Melnychenko were alone, then you might be able to hold on to power for many more months.  However, Melnychenko is not alone.  Out of every million Ukrainians, there is at least one who has the same initiative and the same courage that he had.  Thus, you have fifty Melnychenkos to contend with at least and these fifty will be showing you the way to your prison cell sooner than you imagine.

Lubomyr Prytulak

External link to The New York Times On the Web

February 26, 2001

From Under a Couch, an Effort to Stop Corruption in Ukraine


Patrick E. Tyler/The New York Times
Mikola Melnichenko says he has tapes of Ukraine's president.

MOSCOW, Feb. 25 The security officer who released secret recordings made under the couch of the president of Ukraine which now receives more American aid than any post-Communist nation says he is on a one-man quest "to stop all the corruption and all the nastiness" that have followed the Soviet collapse.

In his first meeting with a journalist since he went into hiding three months ago, Mikola Melnichenko, whose revelations have shaken the government of President Leonid D. Kuchma, said that when he finished transcribing hundreds of hours of tapes spirited out of Ukraine last fall, he will be able to trace virtually all high-level corruption, repression and some acts of violence to Mr. Kuchma.

If so, Mr. Melnichenko might become something of a hero across the ruins of the Soviet empire.  Millions of impoverished people are embittered that instead of experiencing the promised market economy and democracy, their newly independent states fell under the sway of men many, like Mr. Kuchma, former Communist bosses who have attained enormous power and wealth at the expense of national prosperity.

"My goal is to totally expose the level of corruption in Ukraine as an independent Don Quixote and ensure that thieves will never come to power again in Ukraine," Mr. Melnichenko said.

On Saturday, the 34-year-old Ukrainian arrived at a clandestine rendezvous in a Central European country wearing a pageboy wig and a heavy coat to disguise his identity.  Six hours later, he left the same way, asking his guests to wait five minutes before leaving the inn 250 miles outside the capital of the country, which he asked not to be identified.

He charged in a long interview that Mr. Kuchma had pocketed at least $1 billion for personal or political use, and that the full transcript of recordings made since at least 1998 in Mr. Kuchma's office would establish that "there is no greater criminal in Ukraine than Kuchma."

Mr. Kuchma at first denied that his voice was heard on Mr. Melnichenko's tapes, whose contents have caused a political crisis in Ukraine, the recipient of $2 billion of American aid since Mr. Kuchma, a former director of a Soviet-era missile factory, won the presidency in 1994.

Ukraine's prosecutor later acknowledged that the voice heard was that of the president, but said Mr. Melnichenko had tampered with the recordings to distort their content.

Mr. Melnichenko praised the United States for its support of Ukraine and said American intelligence services had helped to support democracy there and to investigate corruption.  But he said most of that evidence had simply been presented to Mr. Kuchma, who then took steps to cover up and protect the circle of oligarchs who finance his rule.

"All of these people are working on Kuchma's orders," he said.  "They laundered money on Kuchma's orders, and they divided it up."

He said Mr. Kuchma had established a "krisha," or roof, that protected oligarchs and businessmen who, he said, kicked back millions of dollars in cash to accounts controlled by Mr. Kuchma through his banker and confidant, Oleksandr Volkov, a powerful member of Parliament.  "Everyone who works for us should pay money for his krisha," he quoted Mr. Kuchma as saying on the tapes.

Mr. Melnichenko, who said he had attended a military academy in Ukraine and served in the Soviet Army, worked in Mr. Kuchma's presidential security detail for six years.  Before that, as a K.G.B. bodyguard, he spent a year in the Kremlin serving the last Soviet President, Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

Today, Mr. Melnichenko describes Mr. Kuchma as a leader so all-powerful that he can call in prosecutors, tax officials and intelligence chiefs and order them to guarantee, for instance, a sizable margin of victory in the last presidential election in 1999, to open criminal investigations of political foes, or to "ruin" businessmen who support his opponents.

"What I find personally disgusting is that businesses that could have been successful and provided the people with jobs, Kuchma closed down for personal political reasons," Mr. Melnichenko said.  "One of the greatest evils that Kuchma has done has been to turn the whole country into his private little racket."

In one case, he said the recordings showed that Mr. Kuchma was involved in discussions of how to orchestrate a grenade attack by government agents on an opposition candidate and hard-line populist, Natalya Vitrenko.  He said he had "before and after" recordings of Mr. Kuchma discussing the attack on Oct. 2, which wounded Ms. Vitrenko and 33 others during a rally in the industrial city of Krivy Rih.

Mr. Kuchma hoped to place blame for the attack on Oleksandr Moroz, the Socialist Party leader who was also considered a threat to Mr. Kuchma's election, Mr. Melnichenko said.

He refused to discuss whether other security officers collaborated in the recording, but he described an atmosphere of cynicism and treachery in Mr. Kuchma's inner circle, where his intelligence chiefs wiretapped one other and provided Mr. Kuchma with evidence that the others were engaged in corruption.

In hiding, Mr. Melnichenko says he is transcribing the audio record, but will not release more tapes until the recordings are judged authentic by independent experts.  A panel assembled by the International Press Institute in Vienna, and supported by Freedom House in New York, is reviewing hundreds of recorded conversations that Mr. Melnichenko gave them last month.

Since he fled in late November, Mr. Melnichenko has twice been interviewed over the telephone by the American-financed Radio Liberty.  He said he had routed his telephone calls through several phones to prevent being traced by Ukrainian security services, which have been trying to locate him and force his return to face criminal charges for illegally bugging Mr. Kuchma's office.

Mr. Melnichenko said that his legal status in the country where he is hiding expired on Tuesday and that he would like the United States or Britain to help protect his family while he completed his work.

Mr. Melnichenko expressed concern for the safety of his wife, Lilia, and their 4-year-old daughter, Lesya, who are with him in hiding.  He said he was reluctant to request political asylum in the West for fear of being accused of being a Western agent.

When he left Ukraine, he said, he took only about $2,000 in savings, thinking he would be gone only a few weeks.  He assumed that his initial disclosures about Mr. Kuchma's role in ordering the kidnapping of a journalist, Georgy Gongadze, who was later found dead, would have been enough to drive the president from office.

Mr. Gongadze disappeared in September.  His headless body was found in early November outside Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

The journalist's disappearance shocked Mr. Melnichenko into listening to the recordings that he and perhaps others had been compiling.  He came to the recordings on which Mr. Kuchma, he said, ordered his minister of interior, Yuri Kravchenko, to "get rid" of Mr. Gongadze, by orchestrating a kidnapping that could be attributed to "Chechens," whose republic has been notorious for its kidnapping trade.

Mr. Melnichenko said he was going to pass a note about what he knew to the outgoing and incoming American ambassadors to Ukraine, Steven Pifer and Carlos Pascual, when they visited Mr. Kuchma last fall.  But there were too many onlookers, he said.  (Mr. Pascual has since criticized the slow pace of the investigation into Mr. Gongadze's death; on Friday, Mr. Kuchma said Ukraine would accept F.B.I. forensic help.)

Foiled, Mr. Melnichenko then passed a cassette to Mr. Moroz, the Socialist leader and former Parliament speaker.  For his colleagues, Mr. Melnichenko developed a cover story of resigning for a private security job and going to London for training; he left just before Mr. Moroz on Nov. 28 played in Parliament the first recordings of Mr. Kuchma's demands to remove Mr. Gongadze.

"I really believed that when some of these things were made public, Kuchma would go," Mr. Melnichenko said, "I can't believe he is still around."

One of the most serious allegations of official corruption arises from a recording on which Mr. Kuchma discusses how to destroy records and cover up multimillion-dollar transactions through which Igor Bakai, the former head of Ukraine's energy monopoly, reportedly stole $30 million in natural gas revenues.

Mr. Bakai was forced out of his job last April and entered Parliament which grants immunity from prosecution but he has not been seen for months.  Mr. Melnichenko said the American C.I.A. and F.B.I. had presented evidence to Mr. Kuchma of Mr. Bakai's diversion of funds to the United States, where Mr. Bakai is said to have amassed millions of dollars in real estate, including a multimillion-dollar compound in Naples, Fla.  American officials said Mr. Bakai, like Mr. Volkov, was barred from traveling to the United States because of alleged involvement in money-laundering.

Original of the above article is at www.nytimes.com/2001/02/26/world/26UKRA.html