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07/02/2004 | Schtirlitz
Exclusive: New Gongadze leads
By Peter Byrne, Kyiv Post Staff Writer
Jul 1, 2004 04:27

The 33-month-long search for dozens of CDs bearing recordings implicating President Leonid Kuchma and top officials in the kidnapping of muckraking journalist Georgy Gongadze ended at one of the wooden tables in a famous German beer hall where revolutionaries have for ages discussed plans of insurrection.

The appearance of what was presented as an original Melnychenko CD occurred in an appropriately bizarre setting at Munichs legendary Hofbrau Haus on June 27 at about 9:30 p.m., just after the Bavarian polka band launched into its second chorus of Jose Martis Guantanamero.

In an environment of drunken merriment involving rowdy American college students and tipsy Asian tourists, a man with Slavic features and a shabby coat sat intensely observing the table where the drop-off took place. He sat alone, conspicuously, for about an hour, avoiding eye contact and glowering into his liter-sized mug of lager.

Pay no attention to him, said Volodymyr Tsvil, who with a smile, a wink and a wave of his hand launched into another colorful tirade about the role he and others including Kuchma, presidential administration officials, and parliamentary leaders have been playing in the sordid and complex so-called Gongadzegate or Tapegate scandal.

Tsvil, who in 2000 was a close advisor to Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, referred continuously during the Munich beer hall encounter to his diary entries and photographs to back up previously unreported facts relating to former presidential guard Major Mykola Melnychenko, who claims to have secretly taped conversations in Kuchmas office back in 1999 and 2000.The information contained in those recordings allegedly implicate the president and other top officials in the Gongadze disappearance and other crimes.

Melnychenko, supposedly fearing for his life after going public with some of the tapes, fled Ukraine with Morozs help in fall of 2000, and has since been coy about releasing more of the tapes from his alleged collection tapes that could clear up mysteries stemming from those recordings that he did make public.

The decapitated body of crusading journalist Gongadze, of course, was found in a forest outside Kyiv shortly before Melnychenko took flight.



Radioactive tapes

Tsvil said that Moroz asked him in early 2000 to make arrangements to get Melnychenko, the author of the recordings, out of the country.

I met with Melnychenko five or six times during the spring and summer of 2000 to discuss preparations, said Tsvil, who together with Volodymyr Boldanyuk, a far-flung relative and supporter of Moroz, evacuated the guard, his wife Lilia and daughter Lesya to Ostrava, in the Czech Republic on Nov. 26, 2000. Five months later the U.S. granted Melnychenko refugee status.

The Melnychenkos left Prague for the U.S. on Easter Sunday, April 15, 2001, with a computer and a closed packet of documents.

Tsvil said that the 30-50 CDs comprising Melnychenkos much sought-after audio archive stayed behind and are currently in a safe deposit box in Liechtenstein.

Melnychenko, now 37, has directly and through his lawyers turned down numerous requests by the Post to explain why he has not published transcripts of the more than 700 remaining hours of recordings he allegedly made and claims to possess.

The unsolved mystery involving the abduction (and subsequent beheading) of Gongadze and the secret recordings resulted in Ukraines worst political crisis in history. On Nov. 28, 2000 Moroz released some of the Melnychenko recordings from 1999 and 2000. He said they showed that Kuchma and his entourage were responsible for Gongadzes disappearance and other crimes. In spring 2001 Ukrainians took to the streets in sometimes violent protests demanding Kuchmas resignation and arrest.

Kuchma, who has steadfastly dismissed the allegations, maintains that the recordings were faked and manipulated. He has also hinted that Melnychenko is mentally ill.

The 650 megabyte disc given exclusively to the Post at Tsvils instructions contains 15 compressed (ZIP) files containing wave format audio recordings dated October of 2000. The handwriting on the disk label resembles Melnychenkos handwriting.

I think Mykola should come back to Munich to answer some questions and help us sort through all these CDs. Maybe he can help us find the recordings made after Gongadze disappeared, Tsvil said.

Melnychenko has to date released a mere 30 hours of the recordings. Radio Liberty/Radio Europe and several Kyiv Web sites in 2001 published transcripts of several of them, but they were inaccurately transcribed and incorrectly dated. Some of the audio files contained snippets of conversations recorded about the same subject, but on different dates.

Tsvil used photographs of two SBU employees drinking vodka with Melnychenko in Munich to demonstrate to the Post that meetings between Melnychenko and SBU officials to mitigate the damage to Ukraines national security have already been held. The agents features, identities and activities are now known to the Post.

The SBU has so far refused comment on the matter.

A potential sale

Tsvil said in addition to working to protect Ukraines national security interests, Melnychenko has also repeatedly sought meetings with presidential envoys to negotiate terms for bringing his CD collection back to Kyiv.

Presidential Administration deputy head Serhy Levochkin and Presidential Security Chief Volodymr Lyashko arranged one such meeting in Berlins Hilton Hotel during Kuchmas visit there on Feb. 19-20 the same weekend that former SBU General Valery Kravchenko came forward with claims that he had been ordered by the government to spy on opposition politicians and journalists.

They met with Melnychenko again in Vienna, said Tsvil, who escorted the former guard there on Feb. 23, a day before they met with Levochkin and Lyashko.

Melnychenko wanted to take a look at the sauna where the meeting was to take place, so that people could relax, not be recorded, and not look at one another, Tsvil explained.

Levochkin and his staff on June 30 asked for a copy of this article before providing comment. The Presidential Administration switchboard could not provide any contact information for Lyashko.

Leading Ukrainian journalists and opposition politicians, along with most foreign correspondents, still present Melnychenko as a whistle-blowing hero. Few Kuchma critics have questioned whether the guard could have been manipulated to leak recordings to implicate the president in Gongadzes murder.

Tsvil, meanwhile, is asking why opposition politicians, the main instigators of the scandal who used to believe Melnychenkos recordings provided sufficient grounds for the Kuchmas impeachment, are now allied with Kuchmas administration on other issues, such as political reform.

At a June 17 press conference, Socialist Party deputy Yury Lutsenko warned reporters that Melnychenko had told him that a Ukrainian reporter would soon be en route to Munich on a mission to discredit Melnychenko and his role in the unremitting scandal.

On June 30, Lutsenko told the Post that Moroz learned that Kuchmas office was bugged in the fall of 2000. He said that Moroz knows of no one named Boldanyuk.

Tsvil has nevertheless maintained that Boldanyuk paid about $15,000 in 1999 to put Moroz up in the Presidential Suite of the Imperial Hotel in Karlsbad, Czech Republic, to rest after failing in his bid for the presidency that year.

Of course Moroz knows who Boldanyuk is, he said.

Mykola Melnychenko failed to respond to email queries about Tsvils assertions before the Post went to press.

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  • 2004.07.02 | Schtirlitz

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    Man in Tapegate: Q&A with Melnychenko middleman Volodymyr Tsvil
    By Peter Byrne, Kyiv Post Staff Writer
    Jul 1, 2004 04:14


    Born in Ivano-Frankivsk oblast in February 1962, Volodymyr Tsvil studied medicine and law in Lviv during the late 1980s before earning a living in other fields.

    In 1990 he says he earned his first big paycheck, about $20,000, for leading a Ukrainian song ensemble on a tour to Norway, Spain, France and Canada. The income, Tsvil said, was officially declared on arrival at Moscows Sheremetevo 2 Airport and used upon his return to Lviv to fund ventures including partnership arrangements with Czech and Polish firms doing business in Rivne oblast.

    Tsvil, no stranger to past and present leaders of Ukraines far-right nationalist movements, is well-known by Socialist Party leaders, including Oleksandr Moroz.

    He currently resides with his wife and two daughters in a suburb outside Munich.

    Also on hand during the interview was Valery Kravchenko, the former State Security Services (SBU) general who now lives in Germany and created a stir in February when he alleged on German radio that the SBU had ordered him to spy on critics of President Kuchma abroad.



    KP: What was your role in the Tapegate scandal?

    VT: By twist of fate, or, more precisely, at the behest of Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, I came to know Mykola Melnychenko almost a year before the recordings scandal erupted. The acquaintanceship resulted in Melnychenkos [flight] on Nov. 26 across the Ukrainian-Polish border. Just before boarding the bus, he put all his belongings, suitcases, his computer and everything else in my Mitsibushi Pajero jeep.

    KP: What did those belongings exactly consist of?

    VT: I didnt know then, since I did not rifle through them. After all, I am not a customs official or a border guard. Once across the border, Melnychenko, his wife Lilia and his daughter Lesya got out of the bus and into our car. He told me about his valuable items just before arriving at the Czech border. Ironically, we were not allowed by Polish customs officials to take Melnychenkos computer out of Poland. I left it at a filling station near the border and picked it up a week later after obtaining the necessary paperwork.



    KP: Melnychenko declared recently [June 17, 2004] that he never gave you or anyone else the CDs containing recordings of conversations secretly made in President Kuchmas office. Is this true?

    VT: If he today thinks that he passed something on, or didnt turn something over, then he must be in outer space. Melnychenko was then completely isolated and in danger. It wasnt us who asked to protect him and his belongings, but the other way around. We kept his valuable items in a separate location.



    KP: Did Melnychenko take his CDs with him to the United States after receiving refugee status there?

    VT: Lets get something straight: Only if Melnychenko received a license to eavesdrop on Leonid Kuchma can you say that the recordings are his. Possession, after all, is nine tenths of the law. If you steal something its better to give it back voluntarily than to have someone take it from you by force. Melnychenko had no choice then. Now he must tell the truth about what he knows before it is too late.



    KP: You told the Post on May 26 that you and several other people know the actual location of the recordings. Who are those people and where are the recordings?

    VT: The same people who entrusted me to talk with you, which is the reason we are having this conversation today. To reveal their identities serves no useful purpose. It is not necessary for all of them to speak out. It is enough that I have been entrusted by them to answer your questions. The CDs are in a bank in Liechtenstein.



    KP: Rumors have recently been floated in Ukraine saying that you are planning to discredit Melnychenko and the recordings. Why are you going public now about what you know?

    VT: I never thought then, in December 2000, that the time would come when I would be sitting here and answering that question. God gave people ears and eyes for a reason so that they can hear and see. I believe that it is time for me to help untangle the convoluted strands of the Gongadzegate scandal. And that is exactly what Valery Kravchenko and I are doing now, together, with you here.

    To say that he and I have just met, or have artificially created ties, is incorrect. Kravchenko visited me in December 2000 at the behest of the SBU together with the deceased General Shayman. We met then in Munich. His mission was to establish the whereabouts and the location of Melnychenkos recordings.



    KP: What exactly are you doing with him here right now?

    VT: Valery knows a lot about the SBU that I dont know. I, on the one hand, know a lot about parliamentary deputies, politicians and witnesses involved in the Tapegate scandal. If what we know together can be used to shed light on the truth about Gongadzes murder and the recordings, then so be it.



    KP: Your father and mother in Tomashe (Ivano-Frankivsk oblast) told me on June 21 that SBU agents visited them to ask about your whereabouts and activities. Are you in trouble with Ukraines police or SBU?

    VT: I have no problems with Ukraine, and I hope that I dont have any in the future.

    Ukraine is my country. My problems in Ukraine I solve legally, according to the Constitution, as is my right. The reason that I have not been commuting to Kyiv recently is not related to any danger or potential problems that I might face there.

    Danger can be found anywhere, and Im not the type of person who attempts to know what is impossible to find out. To date, I have had no irreconcilable issues with Ukrainian authorities. If my presence in Ukraine is necessary, then I will go there. Time is money, however, and I expect the inviting party to make the trip worthwhile.



    KP: Socialist deputy Yury Lutsenko on Jun. 19 said that you in 1999 belonged to a small group of Morozs most trusted advisors. What is your relationship with him and the Socialist Party now?

    VT: I am still a member. The party itself has had ups and downs over the past several years, and this is natural in politics. I am not disappointed in Moroz as a person, but have reservations about him as a politician. Morozs career, his political fate, depends on his coming clean about his role in the scandal.



    KP: How do you assess the role of Socialist Party leaders in the recordings scandal?

    VT: I think that you can understand why Moroz went public about the recordings on Nov. 28, 2000 in parliament. He couldnt have acted otherwise. But the ensuing scandal has not produced the desired results. Moroz told me the other day on the phone that he thinks that he has until October 31 to tell what he hasnt told about Melnychenko and the scandal. That answer did not suit me and is one of the reasons I am talking to you know.

    Unfortunately, his problem is shared by the entire Ukrainian political elite. I think that if the same Tapegate scandal erupted today, and if all the recordings were on the table, todays political elites would be just as ineffective as they were then.

    I regret that the recordings made in Kuchmas office have not produced positive results for Ukraine as a whole, or for the victims involved in it. There was hope in the beginning, and positive results could have been achieved if all the players acted with integrity. Unfortunately, Tapegate has been reduced to an exercise in black public relations. Moroz should have understood the danger and taken measures to prevent the outcome.



    [A separate interview with SBU General Valery Kravchenko about Gongadzegate and Tapegate will appear in the Post at a later date.]


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