iraq scandal simmers on

u.s. investigators due mid-month; new tapes tie kuchma to iran, libya
arms deals

the united states will send a team of investigators to kyiv to look into charges that ukraine sold a kolchuga anti-aircraft radar system to iraq in 2000, u.s. ambassador carlos pascual announced oct. 2.

the announcement came two days after a strongly worded u.s. congressional document raised the possibility that almost all u.s. assistance to ukraine could be frozen if ukraine is found to have sold weapons to iraq in breach of un sanctions since sept. 11, 2001.

that document, the house of representatives foreign appropriations bill, was passed on sept. 19, four days before the u.s. state department made its first public accusations that president leonid kuchma personally approved the kolchuga sale to iraq via a jordanian intermediary. the state department said it had based its accusations on secret tape recordings made by mykola melnychenko, a former presidential bodyguard now in exile in the united states.

the foreign appropriations bill, made available on sept. 30, stated that congress was conditioning most of the $155 million earmarked for ukraine in 2003 on further investigation into the iraq matter.

the united states and ukraine agreed on the arrival of u.s. investigators to the country during a two-day visit by assistant secretary of state elizabeth jones. she arrived in kyiv oct. 1 with a delegation that included representatives from the national security council, the defense department and the joint chiefs of staff.

jones gave ukrainian officials a list of questions that they promised to answer quickly, pascual said. he said no specific date had been set for the arrival of u.s. experts. but the interfax news agency quoted the president’s chief of staff, viktor medvedchuk, as saying they would arrive oct. 13.

pascual said the visit by jones was “important and useful,” and said ukraine promised to cooperate with the u.s. probe.

“we appreciate the statement on the part of the ukrainian side to complete openness and transparency to try to reach a clear understanding of whether a transfer of the kolchuga system has taken place,” pascual said. “the key now is obviously to ensure there is effective follow-up.”

earlier, the white house announced it was suspending $54 million in aid to ukraine as a part of a broader review of u.s.-ukraine relations.

a report accompanying the house foreign appropriations bill said congressmen were “extremely concerned” about continuing reports that ukraine has been involved in arms transfers to iraq.

the report also said any restrictions on top of the $54 million freeze already announced would not affect funds designed for combating infectious diseases. the restrictions would also not affect assistance for victims of human trafficking and nonproliferation and disarmament activities, it said.

new recordings

the change in u.s.-ukraine relations was triggered by authentication of a 90-second audio recording from july 10, 2000. the excerpt contained a conversation between kuchma and ukrspetsexport chief valery malev, in which kuchma approves a sale of kolchuga systems to iraq.

opposition lawmaker hryhory omelchenko claimed on sept. 30 that the recording was an excerpt of a longer recording that includes proof of illegal arms sale to countries under u.n. embargo other than iraq.

omelchenko, who also promised to release bank transaction details soon, directed journalists to an internet site, www.5element.net for proof.

the site featured a transcribed nine-minute conversation in which kuchma discusses not only the kolchuga sale to iraq, but also a deal to repair libya’s mig-25 fighter jets. in the conversation published on the site, kuchma gives malev permission to bypass the state service for export control for the deal.

on oct. 2, the site published another eye-catching transcription, this one involving arms sales to iran. the transcription, allegedly from a recording dated may 2, 2000, documents kuchma approving the sale of grad multiple-launch rocket system to tehran.

5element.net, which was visited by over 10,000 people on oct. 1, is the brainchild of peter lyuty, also known as yury shvets, a former senior kgb intelligence analyst who specialized in political and economic risk analysis before emigrating to the united states in 1993. since then, he has served as a consultant to the u.s, department of justice on sensitive law-enforcement issues concerned with russian organized crime and corruption.

lyuty assisted former deputy oleksandr zhyr in washington, d.c., to authenticate snippets of the melnychenko tapes, dating mostly from
1999–2000.

zhyr, who was in charge of counter-espionage for ukraine’s secret service (sbu) in dnipropetrovsk oblast before becoming a deputy in 1994, told the post in a recent interview that he and lyuty had obtained copies of 700 hours of melnychenko’s recordings and the digital device used to make them. he said he intended to publish all of the recordings on the internet.

lyuty criticized melnychenko’s handling of the recordings and claimed the former bodyguard attempted to shut down the site. lyuty and zhyr would not provide details on how they received the recordings or the device.

urging openness

u.s. ambassador to ukraine carlos pascual said on sept. 27 that u.s. officials had notified the ukrainian embassy in washington and the foreign affairs ministry that his country authenticated only one recording about iraq.

pascual acknowledged that the timing of the disclosure was “very unfortunate,” as it come amid protests by thousands of ukrainians seeking kuchma’s ouster.

“this is not the kind of information you can put in a box, put on a shelf and wait for it to go away,” he said.

u.s. state department issued a statement the same day urging ukrainian officials to be as transparent and as forthcoming as possible.

“unfortunately, we do not believe that the government of ukraine has been candid with us in the past on this issue,” the state department said in the statement.

kuchma and other ukrainian officials have denied any radar systems were transferred to iraq and invited foreign governments, u.n. officials and arms experts to investigate.

“ukraine clearly defined its position concerning this issue: it invited all interested parties to decide the issue of checks,” foreign ministry spokesman serhy borodenkov said on oct. 1.

(october 2, 2002)

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