Skip to comments.Violent deaths expose Ukraine's underside
Posted on 12/28/2004 7:41:33 PM PST by Tailgunner Joe
The violent death of Georgy Kirpa, the Ukrainian transport minister, whose body was found in his bath-house, is a grim reminder of the brutal underside of the country's public life.
Kirpa, who died of a gunshot wound, was a close associate of Leonid Kuchma, the outgoing president, and, like many in Mr Kuchma's inner circle, a wealthy businessman. Aged 50, Kirpa played a key role in the rigging of the disputed presidential election by organising trains on which the authorities transported people to vote illegally at multiple polling stations.
Prosecutors, who believe Kirpa shot himself, are examining the possibility that he may have been put under pressure to take his own life.
Prosecutors said yesterday they were examining the possibility that Yuri Lyakh, chief executive of the Ukrainian Credit Bank, who was found dead in his office with his throat slit earlier this month, was also pressed into suicide.
Lyakh, who was 39, was a partner in the business group headed by two of Ukraine's most powerful businesspeople - Viktor Medvedchuk, Mr Kuchma's chief-of-staff, and Grigory Surkis, a member of parliament. Their assets include Dynamo Kiev football club.
Last month, a car bomb that went off in central Kiev narrowly missed Maxim Kurochkin, a Russian businessman who worked on the presidential election campaign of Viktor Yanukovich, prime minister. Mr Kurochkin was executive director of the Russian Club, a Kiev-based group set up by Gleb Pavlovsky, a campaign adviser with close ties to the Kremlin. A month before the blast, Mr Kurochkin had been dismissed as chairman of Kiev's Premier Palace, the luxury hotel where the Russian Club put up its guests.
Prosecutors have not named suspects in any of the three cases.
Meanwhile, members of parliament are openly questioning whether Kirpa's and Lyakh's deaths were suicides. One theory is that the two men were killed by disgruntled business associates, angry perhaps at deals that had gone wrong. Another is that they died because associates were worried they might go public with confidential information.
Mykola Tomenko, an ally of Viktor Yushchenko, the president-elect, urged Mr Kuchma to provide bodyguards to key members of his administration so that they could later tell the public what they knew of Mr Kuchma's years in power. He also asked the authorities to stop issuing diplomatic passports.
"We don't want to look for Ukrainian politicians, Ukrainian money and Ukrainian documents around the globe."
The fear of prosecution now runs rife among people close to Mr Kuchma, as his regime is on the verge of giving way to a new team headed by Mr Yushchenko. Mr Yushchenko has said he does not plan any witch-hunts or a general review of privatisation, through which many of Mr Kuchma's associates grew rich.
But he has also said the law will be enforced and wrong-doers pursued in the courts. He has indicated a few controversial cases he wants investigated, including the murder in 2000 of campaigning journalist Georgy Gongadze; the cut-price privatisation of Kryvorizhstal, Ukraine's top steel mill; the rigging of the earlier rounds of the presidential election; and the poisoning that has left him scarred.
Other serious incidents of the Kuchma era include the killing in 1998 of Vadim Hetman, the former central bank governor and Mr Yushchenko's early mentor, and the deaths in car crashes of former independence leader Vyacheslav Chornovil in 1999 and arms export chief Valery Malev in 2002.
A parliamentary committee accused Mr Kuchma of involvement in Gongadze's death. But neither parliament nor any other official body has levelled accusations against the president arising from any other cases. The possibility that Mr Kuchma and his immediate family might secure legal immunity has been aired but no serious attempt has been made to secure it.
Meanwhile, some of Mr Kuchma's associates are trying to build bridges with the likely new administration. Bohdan Hubsky, another partner in Mr Medvedchuk's and Mr Surkis's business group, was conspicuously present at Mr Yushchenko's election night party. Mr Hubsky heads a small faction in parliament called United Ukraine which has recently supported Mr Yushchenko on key votes.
Mr Medvedchuk, Mr Surkis and their Social Democratic party publicly remain firm supporters of Mr Yanukovich, but according to Mykhailo Pogrebinsky, a political analyst close to Mr Medvedchuk, "every serious businessman accepts that Mr Yushchenko has won, even those who can't yet say so openly". Also present at Mr Yushchenko's party was Alexander Babakov, a member of the Russian parliament and owner of many Ukrainian businesses including the Premier Palace hotel.
Separately, Rinat Akhmetov, the coal-and-steel oligarch who backed Mr Yanukovich in the presidential election, has invited Yulia Tymoshenko, the most radical of Mr Yushchenko's main allies, to appear on his television channel.
One pro-Yushchenko businessman said: "There's a Chinese proverb: keep your friends close and your enemies closer. Maybe in this case past enemies is more accurate."
The bullet entrance hole would probably be in his back, with no powder burns...
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