munich july 1, 2004 — information about notorious killing of journalist georgy gongadze surfaces, along with allegations that mykola melnychenko is trying to sell his namesake tapes.
the search for recordings allegedly shedding light on the murder of journalist georgiy 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 munich’s 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 marti’s “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 kuchma’s 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 moroz’s 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.
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 melnychenko’s 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 ukraine’s 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 gongadze’s disappearance and other crimes. in spring 2001 ukrainians took to the streets in sometimes violent protests demanding kuchma’s 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 tsvil’s instructions contains 15 compressed (zip) files containing wave format audio recordings dated october of 2000. the handwriting on the disk label resembles melnychenko’s 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 ukraine’s 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 ukraine’s 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 serhiy lyovochkin and presidential security chief volodymyr lyashko arranged one such meeting in berlin’s hilton hotel during kuchma’s visit there on feb. 19–20 — the same weekend that former sbu general valeriy 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 lyovochkin 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.
lyovochkin 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 gongadze’s murder.
tsvil, meanwhile, is asking why opposition politicians, the main instigators of the scandal who used to believe melnychenko’s recordings provided sufficient grounds for the kuchma’s impeachment, are now allied with kuchma’s administration on other issues, such as political reform.
at a june 17 press conference, socialist party deputy yuriy 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 kuchma’s 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 tsvil’s assertions before the post went to press.