Disappeared persons in Belarus Introductory memorandum Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights Rapporteur: Mr Christos Pourgourides, Cyprus, Group of the European People's Party

2003 2003-12-19T10:00:00+0200 1970-01-01T03:00:00+0300 en The Human Rights Center “Viasna” The Human Rights Center “Viasna”
The Human Rights Center “Viasna”

A. Introduction

• The Assembly has been concerned for over two years by the disappearances of Yuri Zakharenko, former Minister of the Interior (disappeared on 7 May 1999), Victor Gonchar, former Vice-President of the Parliament of Belarus (disappeared on 16 September 1999), Anatoly Krasovski, businessman (disappeared with Mr Gonchar), and Dmitri Zavadski, cameraman for the Russian TV channel ORT (disappeared on 7 July 2000). Allegations made in public were brought to the attention of the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights that these disappearances had a political background.

• Consequently, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights established in September 2002 an Ad Hoc Sub-Committee to clarify the circumstances of disappearances for allegedly political reasons in Belarus. The Ad Hoc Sub-Committee, chaired by S. Kovalev, has heard statements in January 2003 in Strasbourg by family members of the disappeared persons and by Mr Alkayev, former head of the Minsk SIZO-1 prison who has obtained political asylum in Germany. It has also taken note of a report dated 20 January 2003 addressed to the families of Gonchar and Krasovski by Mr Chumachenko, Senior Investigator of the Minsk Public Prosecution Service, and of a reply by Prosecutor General Sheyman to Mr Frolov, Head of the “Respublica” group in the Belarusian parliament. The Belarusian authorities turned down several requests of the Ad Hoc Sub-Committee to hold a meeting in Minsk with a view to hearing other persons that may have information on the fate of the missing persons.

• In parallel, the Committee on Legal Affairs and Human Rights, at its meeting on
5 June 2003, appointed me as Rapporteur on the same issue. After some hesitations on the Belarusian side , I was invited to visit Minsk from 5-8 November 2003. I should like to thank Mr Konoplev, Vice-President of the Belarusian Chamber of Representatives, for his valuable help in arranging this visit and the hospitality he has shown during my stay in Minsk.
Mr Konoplev explained to me that it was outside his competence to arrange meetings with all the persons that I had asked to meet . He informed me in Minsk that I should address my request to meet the other persons mentioned in my letter in writing to the Minister of the Interior, Mr Naumov, and the Prosecutor General, Mr Sheyman, respectively. Such meetings could then be arranged on the occasion of my second visit to Minsk in early December, as Rapporteur for the Committee on Political Affairs on the freedom of the press.

• As I explained to my interlocutors in Minsk, my mission was not to conduct myself a fully-fledged criminal investigation into these disappearances with a view to identifying those responsible. The purpose of my visit was merely to examine in a completely unbiased way whether a proper investigation of the disappearances has been conducted by the competent Belarusian authorities.

• Unfortunately, despite having followed in every detail the procedural advice I had been given, all my meeting requests for 3 December were turned down, and the Secretary of our Committee, whom I had asked to join me in Minsk for that day, was refused his visa. I should like to inform you that the reason Mr Konoplev gave me in a closed meeting was that the Belarusian side had managed to procure for itself a copy of the first draft of this Memorandum and that the President himself had been upset by its contents. I strongly protested against such unacceptable and unethical behaviour and expressed my regrets to Mr Konoplev that his Government would not avail itself of the opportunity, through the additional interviews with Belarusian officials I had proposed, to present in more detail the Government’s version of events.

• The nature of the Belarusian regime, as illustrated by this episode, is an important factor also in assessing the facts at issue. Belarus is a former Soviet Republic in which fundamental democratic reforms have not yet taken place. The system of Government is highly centralised, and all the powers of the Executive are directly or indirectly controlled by the President. The vertical decision-making structures are based on the constant supervision of the citizens by a powerful security apparatus which obviously has state of the art means at its disposal and no qualms over using them. The credibility of the official “version” that such high-profile political personalities have simply “disappeared”, with the Government unable to determine their whereabouts, must also be seen against this general background.

• I should like to stress that this introductory memorandum is based on the information that is in my possession as of now. While I have already given the Belarusian authorities ample opportunity to present their version of the events, I should like, in all openness, to transmit this memorandum to Minsk. Provided the Committee agrees, I would invite the authorities to comment on any points they do not agree with, and present any new information that may justify changing the conclusions that I hope to be able to present in the final report early next year.

B. Preliminary conclusions

• For now, I have come to the preliminary conclusion that a proper investigation of the disappearances has not been carried out by the competent Belarusian authorities. On the contrary, the interviews I conducted in Minsk, in conjunction with Mr Alkayev’s deposition before the Ad hoc Sub-Committee and the documents or copies thereof that are in my possession, have led me to believe that steps were taken at the highest level of the State actively to cover up the true background of the disappearances, and to suspect that senior officials of the State may themselves be involved in these disappearances.

• I am fully aware that these are serious allegations, and I shall present hereafter a summary of the elements in my possession that have lead me to these preliminary conclusions , and finally, the consequences which I propose the Assembly may draw from these conclusions.

C. Basis for my conclusions

10. My preliminary conclusions are based on information relating in particular to the following issues and the serious contradictions and, in some cases, outright lies that became apparent on analysing this information and confronting my interlocutors in Minsk with it:

(1) the official execution pistol, which was signed out of SIZO-1 prison on two occasions, coinciding with the disappearances of Zakharenko, Gonchar and Krasovski;

(2) witness statements and material evidence regarding the scene of the abduction of Gonchar and Krasovski;

(3) the handwritten accusation by Police General Lapatik dated 21 November 2000;

(4) the arrest and rapid liberation of Colonel Pavlichenko in November 2000;

(5) the alleged letter from former Prosecutor General O. Bozhelko to his Russian counterpart asking for specialised equipment;

(6) other details of former Prosecutor General Bozhelko’s story as told by Mr Leonov;

(7) personnel changes at the highest level of the power organs in November 2000;

(8) the secret trial of the “Ignatovich gang”.

11. Before presenting these issues, I should like to point out that my official interlocutors in Minsk had obviously agreed on a common position beforehand. All three pointed out that the Belarusian special services had enough weapons at their disposal enabling them to carry out any operations without borrowing the official execution gun from Mr Alkayev. All three (along with Foreign Affairs Minister Martinov) also stressed that a high number of persons (several hundreds) disappeared each year in Belarus, some of whom turned up again sooner or later (incl. Mrs Vinnikova, the former head of the Central Bank, who the opposition had alleged had been “disappeared” for political reasons until she re-surfaced in London).

1. The official execution pistol

12. The “version” presented by the victims’ families and their lawyers is that the official PB-9 execution pistol was signed out in accordance with legal procedures as part of an enactment of the “official” execution of a secret death penalty against the three persons seen as “traitors”, thus providing a psychological prop for the soldiers employed to commit the acts. At first glance, this version appears far-fetched.

13. But it is now certain (and could easily be proved formally) that the official execution pistol kept by Mr Alkayev, who had been in charge of the unit executing the death penalty in Belarus, was indeed signed out twice by order of the then Minister of the Interior, Mr Sivakov, during periods coinciding with the disappearances of Mr Zakharenko on 7 May 1999 and
Mr Gonchar and Mr Krasovski on 16 September 1999.

14. It is also certain that a SOBR (special forces of the Ministry of the Interior) -soldier named Pavlichenko (who drove a red BMW car – such a car was seen at the site of the abduction of Gonchar and Krasovski), had observed one of the executions carried out by Mr Alkayev’s group, behaving “suspiciously”, according to Mr Alkayev. In November 2000, Mr Alkayev made a detailed deposition before the investigators of the prosecutor’s office, and the pistol and logbook were seized as evidence.

15. The authorities cannot provide any alternative explanation for the temporary removals of the pistol. During my visit in Minsk, Mr Sivakov purported to present an explanation for the first signing-out of the pistol, in May 1999, but not for the second, in September 1999. He asserted that the fact that the execution pistol had been signed out at the same time as two of the events linked to the “disappearances” was a pure coincidence.

16. As to the first withdrawal of the pistol in question, Mr Sivakov explained in some detail that the signing-out of the pistol was motivated by a detailed study of the penitentiary system, including the system in place to execute the death penalty that he - as a death penalty sceptic - had asked to be carried out when he took office. He had entrusted this task to Mr Pavlichenko, a promising, highly skilled officer in the special forces of the Ministry of the Interior (SOBR), who had attracted his attention due to his excellent combat records and who was beloved by his soldiers - Mr Pavlichenko was currently Mr Sivakov’s deputy as president of a social association of serving and retired special forces soldiers and their families. In reply to my question, Mr Sivakov stated that the study on the workings of the penitentiary system had been presented only orally, in view of the sensitive nature of the matters involved. Mr Sivakov confirmed that the study in question involved signing the pistol out of the SIZO-1 prison, as the above-mentioned study included the question of whether a new gun should be purchased. Currently, there were plans to build a new prison, with a facility for executions, 40 km outside of Minsk. The current practice of shooting convicts in a prison situated right in the centre of Minsk had become unacceptable. Mr Sivakov stressed that all his decisions had been related to the question of the introduction of a death penalty moratorium, as recently demanded by the Belarusian parliament.

17. In reply to my further question why the pistol had been signed out a second time, four months later, he stated that he did not even remember giving orders to this effect. I reminded Mr Sivakov that his Deputy Minister Chvankin had indicated to Prosecutor Chumachenko that the pistol was used for carrying out “special measures but not for shooting training.” Following Mr. Chvankin’s refusal to provide more specific information on the use of the pistol, Prosecutor Chumachenko had asked the Ministry of the Interior whether operational measures of any kind had been carried out with that weapon, and contented himself with a reply from which he could only conclude that “it is impossible to arrive at a definite conclusion as to whether the weapon issued to V.N. Dik and V.P.Kolesnik was used in operational and search measures carried out by employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs”.

18. I asked Mr Sivakov if he could be more specific. He could not. He merely maintained that the second signing-out must have also had operational, technical reasons.

19. As regards the first signing-out, in May 1999, Mr Sivakov explained in some detail that it was linked to the above-mentioned study on the Belarusian penitentiary system in general and the method of the execution of the death penalty in particular. I leave it to you to appreciate the credibility of the explanation involving inter alia a comparison with the methods used for the execution of capital punishment in other European countries (sic ), and the assertion that such a wide-ranging study was only conducted orally and was entrusted to a special forces soldier – Mr Pavlichenko - with no relevant qualifications. Mr Sivakov did in the end not exclude that written records on the examination of the pistol may be found, if looked for. But until today, despite my repeated requests to Mr Konoplev and other officials to present me with a written record, none has been submitted, which in my view indicates that none exists.

20. Whatever credit may be given to Mr Sivakov’s explanation, it must be stressed that it covers in any event only one instance of signing out the pistol. Most significantly, Mr Sivakov’s explanations for the two signings-out have undergone important changes since he was questioned by Prosecutor Chumachenko. In addition, Mr Sivakov’s then adjutant, V.P. Kolesnik, who had first admitted to the investigators that on his instructions he had handed the pistol over to Mr Sivakov, had also changed his statement on this important issue later .

21. The fact that the Prosecutor’s Office did not insist on clarifying the incomprehensible, and apparently suspicious answer received from Mr Chvankin and the Ministry of the Interior in reply to their requests for information on the precise use made of the gun also shows that the investigation of this crucial point was not conducted with the required vigour.

2. Witness statements and material evidence (paint traces, car fragments) relating to the scene of the abduction of Gonchar and Krasovski

22. Prosecutor Chumachenko’s report gives a detailed account of statements of witnesses who saw a red BMW car parked near the sauna in front of which Gonchar and Krasovski were abducted, and observed suspicious activity by a number of young men wearing uniforms. Chumachenko also indicates that during the examination of the scene, various car fragments, blood stains and skidmarks were discovered, including signs of a red car having collided with a tree, from which samples of red paint were taken for analysis. Forensic tests on two splinters of wood submitted for analysis “concluded that they contained “ground-in micro-particles of scarlet-coloured acrylic/melamine paint. The paint may be used for a comparative analysis to establish its common type through sample matching. The traces on the wood are the result of a strong impact at speed”.

23. I asked Interior Minister Naumov whether an analysis comparing the traces of red paint found on the site of Gonchar’s and Krasovski’s abduction with Mr Pavlichenko’s red BMW had been conducted. He answered that this would have been up to the investigators in the Prosecutor’s office. When I put the same question to Prosecutor General Sheyman at my meeting with him later in the day, the Minsk Chief Prosecutor answered in his place saying that the Prosecution had seen no reason to take paint from Pavlichenko’s car for a comparative study, as witnesses interrogated in the course of the investigation mentioned no such car, but only Russian-made cars such as Schigulis, Moskviches and so on. In addition, the paint traces found were not red, but cherry-coloured, as was the Jeep belonging to Krasovski.

24. When I confronted Mr Sheyman with the findings of Chumachenko, he offered to provide a “written clarification” by Mr Chumachenko. I recalled that I had asked to meet Chumachenko in person.

25. Given that Colonel Pavlichenko had been named as a suspect not only by the victims’ families, but also by the Chief of the Criminal Police in charge of the investigation, General Lapatik, I consider the failure to match the paint as a clear effort of collusion and cover-up. This simple investigative act, and some others listed in a request addressed to the prosecution by the families’ lawyers that had been turned down explicitly, might have placed Mr Pavlichenko’s car at the scene of the abduction and constituted an extremely important link in the circumstantial evidence against him.

3. The handwritten accusation by Police General Lapatik of 21 November 2000

26. The Chief of the Criminal Police of Belarus, General Lapatik, addressed a handwritten note dated 21 November 2000 to the Minister of the Interior, Naumov. In this note, he accused V. Sheyman (at the time Secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, currently Prosecutor General) of having ordered the former Minister of the Interior, Y. Zakharenko, to be physically annihilated. This order was allegedly carried out by SOBR commander Pavlichenko with the assistance of the then Minister of the Interior, Sivakov, who had provided Pavlichenko with the PB-9 pistol temporarily removed from SIZO-1 prison. The same weapon, General Lapatik concluded, was used on 16 September 1999, when Gonchar and Krasovski went missing.

27. After this handwritten note (complete with a handwritten visa/instruction by Interior Minister Naumov asking General Lapatik to “implement”) was leaked, it was denounced as a fake by the authorities . Only after I had pointed out the possibility of performing a graphological examination, even on the basis of the photocopy that we had in our possession, the genuineness of the leaked note was admitted: during my visit in Minsk, both Interior Minister Naumov, the addressee of Lapatik’s note, and Prosecutor General Sheyman confirmed, quite to my surprise, that the handwritten note in question was indeed written by General Lapatik and visa’ed by Minister Naumov. Mr Naumov and Mr Sheyman now say that Mr Lapatik’s findings were simply erroneous, and that there were other “versions” of this note which were more serious. Those who had leaked this document, and a number of others, from the official case file, had made a biased selection to support one “version” that would discredit the President, as part of the opposition’s electoral campaign. Please note that although I said that I had seen no other “version” of Mr Lapatik’s note than the one that had been made public, no other versions have been presented to me to date.

28. I asked both Mr Naumov and Mr Sheyman what they had done to follow up on the allegations made by Police General Lapatik.

29. Mr Naumov said that he had passed the note on to the investigators of the prosecutor’s office, for further investigation. It was thus Mr Sheyman who was in charge of investigating accusations made by the chief of police that he himself had ordered several political murders whilst in his previous function.

30. Mr Sheyman stated that the information presented in the note had been “subjected to scrutinising investigation”, but, despite my questions, did not give any detail as to any particular investigative measures taken.

31. I regard the unsubstantiated allegation that a thorough investigation had been carried out as completely untenable in view of the fact that even the comparison of the red paint found on the scene of the crime with that of the red car driven by the suspect named in General Lapatik’s note was not done.

32. Given that both the Minister of the Interior and the General Prosecutor had come to the conclusion that General Lapatik’s accusations were unfounded, I asked what legal or disciplinary action had been taken against General Lapatik

33. I was told – in similar terms by Mr Naumov and Mr Sheyman – that no harsh measures were taken against General Lapatik for essentially humanitarian reasons, as he had fallen seriously ill in early 2001 and was forced to retire four months before his normal term.

34. Frankly, I do not believe that “humanitarian reasons” would stop the authorities of any country that I can think of from imposing disciplinary sanctions on, or prosecuting for defamation, a high state official who accuses senior representatives of the state of having ordered the murder by special forces of three important opposition figures, and who does not go back on his allegations even after they are made public, all the while refusing to disclose his sources, even to his Minister, and refusing to testify, even under subpoena. The authorities clearly preferred to avoid a public trial where evidence would have to be taken and witnesses would have to be heard.

35. I therefore consider the very existence of General Lapatik’s report, its content, and especially the way it has been ”investigated”, as powerful support for my above Preliminary Conclusions. In view of the prevailing presidential system and the way the country is generally run, I also find it hard to believe that the above could have taken place without the knowledge of the President. I feel comforted in my view by the President’s statements cited in Mrs Gonchar’s and Mrs Krasovski’s appeal to Mr Latypov, Head of the Presidential Administration, Mr Nevyglas, Secretary of the Security Council, and Mr Erin, Chair of the Committee for State Security.

4. The arrest and rapid liberation of Colonel Pavlichenko in November 2000

36. Mr Pavlichenko was arrested on 22 November 2000, i.e. one day after General Lapatik’s accusations were brought to the attention of Interior Minister Naumov. The arrest warrant signed by the then Chief of the Belarusian KGB, Matskevich and sanctioned by the then Prosecutor General, Bozhelko , reads as follows:

37. “The materials of the operational investigation contain trustworthy data confirming that Dmitry Vasiliyevich Pavlichenko is the organiser and head of a criminal body engaged in abduction and physical elimination of people. In particular, the criminal group headed by D.V. Pavlichenko was involved in assassinating G. V. Samoylov, the leader of the RNE, Belarusian unregistered regional organisation, as well as in murdering other individuals. Taking into consideration the fact that D.V. Pavlichenko and his criminal group may commit further crimes of particular violence, […], decided [to apply a preventive detention for 30 days].”

38. Despite the period of detention indicated in the warrant, Mr Pavlichenko was freed in the following days . In a letter of November 2002 to Mr V.D. Frolov, member of the House of Representatives of Belarus, who had asked for information on the disappearances, Prosecutor General Sheyman specified that Mr Pavlichenko had been arrested on suspicion of having committed acts of violence against A.V. Grachev in a criminal case before the Republican Prosecutor’s Office. On the next day, Pavlichenko had been released “on the instruction of senior KGB officers on the ground that the detention was unlawful”, as I was told by Mr Sheyman and as stated in the above-mentioned letter by the Prosecutor General to
Mr V.D. Frolov to which I will again refer below. Mr Sheyman thus gave false information to
Mr Frolov, because Mr Pavlichenko was not arrested on the ground indicated by him, but for the alleged murder of Mr Samoylov, and other murders.

39. The families of the disappeared and their lawyers, as well as Mr Alkayev, claim that KGB Chief Matskevich had ordered the arrest in the framework of the investigation into the four “disappearances”, the arrest warrant being based on other accusations in order to facilitate the arrest.

40. The former Minister of Agriculture, Leonov , whom I met in Minsk, said that President Lukashenko himself had violently criticised the KGB for arresting Pavlichenko. This allegation seems to be credible in view of the fact that Pavlichenko was released from custody shortly after his arrest, despite the fact that he had been arrested on the basis of a warrant signed by the head of the KGB and sanctioned by the Prosecutor General. Who, I wonder, had the power to release him from arrest for a series of murders?
Mr Leonov also confirmed to me that then Prosecutor General Bozhelko had told him personally that he also shared Lapatik’s and Matskevich’s point of view. The families of the disappeared allege that during his detention, Pavlichenko confessed to the murders of the “disappeared” and their background and that his confession was computer-taped by the KGB. I have asked the authorities for transcripts of Pavlichenko’s interrogation during his custody.

41. While there is still some uncertainty on this issue, as long as I have not seen the transcript of Mr Pavlichenko’s interrogation, and Mr Bozhelko and Mr Matskevich remain silent, I must admit that I am taken aback by the undisputed fact that the trusted, promising career officer described to me in the warmest terms by the former Minister of the Interior, Sivakov, had been arrested on the order of the Chief of the KGB and of the Prosecutor General as suspected “organiser and head of a criminal body engaged in abduction and physical elimination of people”.

42. The fact that the Prosecutor General wrote to a Parliamentarian giving false information is another clear indication of a cover-up. In addition, given that the arrest warrant, signed by the Chief of the KGB (and sanctioned by the then Prosecutor General) was issued for one month, how could mere “senior KGB officials”, as Sheyman wrote to Frolov, release him after 24 hours? What could have possibly been the investigative measures, carried out in these 24 hours, that proved Pavlichenko’s innocence?

5. The alleged letter from former Prosecutor General O. Bozhelko to his Russian counterpart asking for specialised equipment

43. I was told by lawyers of the disappeared, and by Mr Leonov that former Prosecutor General Bozhelko had come to similar conclusions to those of Police General Lapatik. On 21 November 2000, he had allegedly written to his Russian counterpart, Prosecutor General
V. Ustinov, to request the use of special equipment and experienced staff to locate buried bodies. This request was – again, allegedly – cancelled by another letter dated
27 November 2000, the day of the dismissal of O. Bozhelko and of V. Matskevich, the chief of the Belarusian KGB.

44. Prosecutor General Sheyman, Mr Bozhelko’s successor, in reply to my question flatly denied that such letters existed. The Deputy General Prosecutor specified that there was no official record of such a letter in the case file. But he could not exclude that “privately”, such a letter may have been sent by Bozhelko’s office.

45. It would clearly be interesting to know if such a letter was indeed sent , as it would make sense only if the approximate location of the buried body or bodies was already known to investigators.

6. Other details of former Prosecutor General Bozhelko’s story as told by
Mr Leonov

46. Mr Leonov further told me in Minsk that Mr Bozhelko, who still lived in Minsk but did not answer any telephone calls, had informed him personally, in front of other witnesses, including the well-known Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, that the disappearances in question had been orchestrated by Mr Sheyman and carried out by a special unit set up by former Interior Minister Sivakov and led by Colonel Pavlichenko. Bozhelko had also made a reference to the existence of a videotape of Pavlichenko’s confession. Mr Leonov told me that during the last election campaign, he had been offered videotapes of Pavlichenko’s confession and of the executions, but that he had refused to accept them, thinking that it was a provocation by the special services.

47. During our conversation in Minsk, Mr Leonov also directly accused President Lukashenka of having given the order to Sheyman. He told me that Bozhelko had informed him of a meeting with the President, during which Bozhelko, who was then still Prosecutor General, had heard Police Chief Lapatik ask the President who had given him the right to kill the general (meaning General Zakharenko, the first of the “disappeared”), following which the President reportedly had not denied the fact but accused those present of undermining his authority and of forcing him to take medicines by persistently upsetting him.

48. According to the families’ lawyers, Matskevich and Bozhelko were never even questioned by investigators dealing with the disappearance cases. In my view, this is another very grave omission. Mr Leonov is an interesting “indirect witness”, but if these two key persons were to speak out themselves, this would of course be most helpful.

7. Personnel changes at the highest level of the power organs in November 2000

49. We were informed by the families’ lawyers and by Mr Leonov that on 27 November 2000, Prosecutor General Bozhelko was fired and replaced by Mr Sheyman, former head of the national security council. According to the families’ lawyers, Mr Sheyman did not hold a law degree when he was appointed, although the law requires that the Prosecutor General be a lawyer. The President himself, who had been criticised for this appointment, had publicly taken responsibility for it.

50. On the same day, the President of the KGB, General Matskevich was fired. According to Mr Leonov, he had been scolded on Television by President Lukashenka for having arrested Colonel Pavlichenko. Shortly afterwards, the Chief of the Police, General Lapatik, fell seriously ill and ended up taking early retirement on health grounds.

51. The families of the disappeared presume that Bozhelko, Matskevitch and Lapatik were either fired or retired because they had come too close to the truth in the “disappearances” cases. By contrast, a presidential spokesman explained on 27 November that the personnel reshuffle was partially a result of the President’s “dissatisfaction that many important [investigation] cases have dragged on for too long without justification” .

52. In my view, while the President’s dissatisfaction is quite understandable, the timing of the personnel changes, coinciding very closely with important events related to the disappearance cases (General Lapatik’s handwritten accusations, Pavlichenko’s arrest ordered by Matskevich and Bozhelko, Alkayev’s depositions) gives rise to grave suspicions.

8. The secret trial of the “Ignatovich gang”

53. Beginning on 24 October 2001, four men (V. Ignatovich, M. Malik, A. Guz and S.Savushkin ), were tried in camera for the abduction of Mr Zavadski. Mr Axsonchik, the lawyer representing Zavadsky’s mother, petitioned the court to allow the proceedings to be held in open session, which was refused. A number of requests calling for evidence filed by the Zavadski family’s lawyers were refused by the court. On 14 March 2002, the four persons were convicted and sentenced to long prison terms for the abduction of Zavadski (but not for murder, as the body had not been found), on the basis, inter alia, of a spade with Zavadski’s blood found in Ignatovich’s car . The convicted reportedly continue to claim their innocence, calling the trial a farce. Former Prosecutor General Bozhelko, so I was told by one of the family’s lawyers, attended the trial as a witness, but he largely refused to testify, on the basis of the provision in the criminal procedure code allowing investigators to protect their sources.

54. This conviction was presented to me in some detail by the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of the Interior and the Prosecutor General as the partial resolution of the Zavadski case.

55. According to the prosecution, the motive for which Ignatovich and his gang had committed the crime against Zavadski was revenge, because Zavadski had publicly accused Ignatovich of having fought in Chechnya on the side of the rebels.

56. Most of my interlocutors on the families’ side maintain that Zavadski’s disappearance belongs to the same line of disappearances as those of Zakharenko, Gonchar and Krasovski, i.e. it had a similar political motive: retribution for “treason” against the President, for whom
Mr Zavadski had once worked as a personal cameraman, before he began working against the President as a journalist for “hostile” media.

57. In my view, given that the execution pistol had not been signed out around the time of Mr Zavadski’s disappearance, it may well be that there is no direct organisational link between this case and the other three . It could also be that the “Ignatovich gang” killed Zavadski to settle Mr Ignatovich’s personal account with this journalist, whilst its members, or some of them, may coincidentally have been involved in the alleged secret execution squad in other cases. In any event, the allegation made to support the need for holding the trial in camera – that witnesses would have otherwise been afraid to give evidence – does in my view not hold water: if the witnesses were afraid of the gang, the fact that the trial was held in camera made no difference whatsoever, as the gang members in question were in any case present during the trial.

D. Consequences

58. This being only an introductory memorandum, I am not yet proposing any concrete action to be taken by the Assembly. I will be most grateful for any suggestions that may be made by colleagues during the discussion in Committee, including ones that may require further research into their feasibility.

59. By way of “brainstorming”, I have so far come up with the following possibilities (without making up my mind in any way):

The Asssembly could:

- demand that an independent investigation be launched by the competent Belarusian authorities, after the resignation of the current Prosecutor General who has been accused of having himself orchestrated the disappearances in his previous function;

- demand that criminal investigations be launched by the Belarusian authorities with a view to clarifying

• the alleged involvement of the current Prosecutor General, the currrent Minister of Sports (the previous Minister of the Interior), and a high-ranking officer of the special forces in the disappearances,

• the possible crime of perversion of the course of justice committed by certain other high-ranking officials who have been involved in the investigations carried out so far and who have falsified, dissimulated or suppressed evidence in their possession in order to protect the true perpetrators of the crimes.

- urge the parliament of Belarus to take the necessary action vis-а-vis the Executive to ensure that justice be done, including demanding the resignation of certain
high-ranking officials in order to enable a truly independent investigation, and the establishment of a parliamentary committee of inquiry, complete with proper investigatory resources.

- urge the member states of the Council of Europe and the international community at large to exercise a maximum of political pressure on the current leadership of Belarus, including through sanctions, until a credible, independent investigation of the alleged involvement of high-ranking officials in the disappearances or their cover-up has been carried out.

- invite the courts of those countries whose laws foresee the international jurisdiction of their national courts for cases of serious human rights abuses to open proceedings against certain high-ranking Belarusian officials for the alleged murder, for political reasons, of one or more of the four disappeared persons.

APPENDIX

DETAILED PRESENTATION OF THE BASIS OF MY PRELIMINARY CONCLUSIONS

• The information on which I have based my preliminary conclusions relates to the following eight intertwined issues:

(1) the official execution pistol, which was signed out of SIZO-1 prison on two occasions, coinciding with the disappearances of Zakharenko, Gonchar and Krasovski;

(2) witness statements and material evidence regarding the scene of the abduction of Gonchar and Krasovski

(3) the handwritten accusation by Police General Lapatik dated November 2000

(4) the arrest and rapid liberation of Colonel Pavlichenko in November 2000

(5) the alleged letter from former Prosecutor General O. Bozhelko to his Russian counterpart asking for specialised equipment

(6) other details of former Prosecutor General Bozhelko’s story as told by Mr Leonov

(7) personnel changes at the highest level of the power organs in November 2000

(8) the secret trial of the “Ignatovich gang”.

• Before presenting my findings on these issues in any detail, I should like to point out that my official interlocutors in Minsk – besides the Ministers of Foreign Affairs, Mr Martinov, who received me more for protocole purposes - the Minister of the Interior, Mr Naumov, his predecessor, Mr Sivakov, and the Prosecutor General, Mr Sheyman, had obviously agreed on a common position beforehand. All three pointed out that the Belarusian special services had enough weapons at their disposal enabling them to carry out any operations without borrowing the official execution gun from Mr Alkayev’ prison. All three (and Mr Martinov, too) also stressed that a high number of persons (several hundreds) disappeared each year in Belarus, some of whom turned up again sooner or later. Reference was made inter alia to
Mrs Vinnikova, the former head of the Central Bank, for whose “disappearance” political reasons had been alleged by the opposition until she re-surfaced in London. Finally, Mr Sheyman even referred expressly to my earlier conversation with Mr Naumov, when he said that the handwritten accusations by Police General Lapatik were just one of several “versions”.

1. Information surrounding the official execution pistol

a. Deposition of Mr Alkayev

• Mr Alkayev, in 1999/2000 head of SIZO-1 prison in Minsk, in charge of the unit executing the death penalty in Belarus, informed members of the ad hoc Sub-Committee at a meeting on 30 January 2003 in Strasbourg as follows: the PB-9 pistol no. PO57C that he was responsible for, and which was habitually used to execute the death penalty, was signed out twice by order of the then Minister of the Interior, Mr Sivakov, on dates coinciding with the disappearances of Mr Zakharenko on 7 May 1999 and Mr Gonchar and Mr Krasovski on
16 September 1999.

• Mr Alkayev went on to testify that a SOBR-soldier named Pavlichenko, who he knew drove a red BMW car, had behaved suspiciously when he observed one of the executions carried out by Mr Alkayev’s group. When he read in the newspaper about the disappearances of Zakharenko, Gonchar and Krasovski, which coincided with the two times that the execution pistol had been borrowed by the Minister of the Interior, and furthermore read about traces of a red foreign-made car found at one of the disappearance sites, he feared that he might be “framed” for the murders. In April 2000, he told General Udovikov (temporarily acting as Minister of the Interior) about his suspicions, who said he knew everything about the case and instructed him to destroy the pistol and the logbook. Officially, he had the logbook destroyed, but in reality, he kept it at home as proof of his innocence. He also shot some of the bullets of the execution pistol into a tree, to retrieve the casings as evidence. When Alkayev’s friend Naumov became Minister of the Interior in September 2000, he promised Alkayev to look into the matter. In mid-November, Colonel Pavlichenko was arrested, and Mr Alkayev was asked by the then Prosecutor General (Mr Bozhelko) to put his suspicions in writing. He did so, and was also interrogated. The pistol and logbook were seized by the Prosecutor’s office. But on 27 November 2000, according to Mr Alkayev, Colonel Pavlichenko was freed from pre-trial detention on the President’s orders. On the same day, the Prosecutor General (Bozhelko) and the Head of the KGB (Mr Matskevich) were replaced. A head of division in the Prosecutor’s office, Mr Branchel, returned the pistol and the logbook to Mr Alkayev, saying that they had never spoken, he had not been interrogated etc. The person Mr Alkayev suspects “orchestrated” the disappearances – Mr Sheyman, former Presidential Chief of Staff - was appointed Prosecutor General. When Mr Alkayev’s report was “leaked” by an investigator who had fled abroad, Mr Alkayev in turn fled the country, via Moscow. When asked why he thought this particularly well-documented gun would have been used for any illegal assassinations by special forces, which were obviously in possession of numerous other guns, including ones confiscated from ordinary criminals, he advanced two “theories”: either the soldiers did not know that the pistol underwent a legal expertise each time it had been fired, or the pistol was used as a psychological prop, making it easier for the soldiers to execute a “secret death sentence”.

• In a handwritten deposition dated 23 November 2000, addressed to the Minister of the Interior, Mr Naumov, Mr Alkayev reported the two “borrowings” of the pistol, after giving some more detail on Mr Pavlichenko’s “strange behaviour”. Mr Alkayev wrote that Mr Pavlichenko, upon the oral request by the then Minister of the Interior, Sivakov, observed on
22 October 1999 the execution of five persons condemned to death. Colonel Pavlichenko asked the executioner why he aimed at the head and not the heart, the latter being more humane as it caused less bloodshed. He said that the executioner had been impressed by this statement as coming from someone who must have had practical experience of the consequences of wounds inflicted in different parts of the body. Alkayev also wrote that “already in December” Mr Pavlichenko had inquired with him about the dates of the next executions, and that he (A.) had explained to him (P.) that he was not empowered to decide on P.’s presence during such procedures.

• In an interview with Irina Halip (Novaya Gazeta), Mr Alkayev gave further details of his contacts with former Minister of the Interior Sivakov, who had come to SIZO-1 prison on
24 May 1999 to ask why the official execution group did not use crematoria to dispose of the bodies of the executed convicts. Alkayev further stated that Colonel Pavlichenko had asked him where the execution squad buried these bodies. When he deposited his report, after the arrest of Colonel Pavlichenko, he thought that the case was “legally set on” and was ready to be a witness. He had also been asked by an investigator - Mr Kazakov – about the burial sites for executed convicts and whether he would be able to identify his “own” and “alien” burial sites.

b. Explanations given to me by Mr Sivakov, former Minister of the Interior

• On the occasion of my visit to Minsk, Mr Sivakov gave me the following explanations regarding the background of the two gun withdrawals:

• He stated that as a “professional”, he felt “insulted” by Mr Alkayev’s theory that the execution gun was used as a psychological prop, to allow him to “enact” an official execution. The fact that the gun had been signed out at the same time as two of the events linked to the “disappearances” was a pure coincidence. The special forces of the Ministry of the Interior were not short of weapons, and if it had been decided to commit unlawful killings, they would not have made use of this particularly well-documented weapon.

• As to the first withdrawal of the PB-9 pistol in question, Mr Sivakov stated that, as a death penalty sceptic, he had decided early on after becoming Minister that the penitentiary system, which was an important part of his ministerial field of responsibility, needed a thorough study enabling him to fully understand its workings. When he took office, the execution of capital punishment was regulated by a classified Order, which, in his view, was out of date and did not meet the humanitarian requirements of the international community. Then as now, capital punishment was an acute issue, and he had received much negative information on the persons who executed capital punishment and the way they proceeded. As he needed to have reliable information, he set objectives to his collaborators to conduct a proper study, which included comparisons with the practice of the execution of capital punishment in other European countries. He entrusted this task to a promising, highly skilled officer in the special forces of the Ministry of the Interior (anti-terror rapid reaction force/“SOBR”), who had attracted his attention due to his excellent combat records and who was beloved by his soldiers - Mr Pavlichenko. Mr Pavlichenko was presently Mr Sivakov’s deputy as president of a social association of serving and retired special forces soldiers and their families.

• In reply to my question, Mr Sivakov stated that the study on the workings of the penitentiary system had been presented only orally, in view of the sensitive nature of the matters involved (including the question whether or not the persons executing capital punishment by shooting were drunk on the job). Mr Sivakov confirmed that the study in question involved signed the pistol out of the SIZO-1 prison, as the above-mentioned study included the question whether a new gun should be purchased.

• In reply to my further question why the pistol had been signed out a second time, four months later, he stated that he did not even remember giving orders to this effect . As Minister, he was permanently carrying a heavy workload, under emotional strain, which meant that he could not remember every detail. I reminded Mr Sivakov of the passage in Prosecutor Chumachenko’s report that Deputy Minister Chvankin had indicated to the Prosecutor that the pistol was used for carrying out “special measures but not for shooting training”, whilst refusing to provide more specific information on the use of the pistol, and I asked Mr Sivakov if he could be more specific. Mr Sivakov maintained that the second signing-out must have also had operational, technical reasons. His deputy minister, Chvankin, and Colonel Dik, who were involved in signing out the pistol, were in charge of logistical tasks, not operative ones, and in his Ministry, the distribution of competences between different services had been well-respected. In reply to my question whether there was any written record on the studies carried out on the pistol, Mr Sivakov said that the Investigators may have such materials in their files. There had to be records somewhere, as this study had been carried out in the framework of a professional plan. With a proper search, some records might be found. Currently, there were plans to build a new prison, with a facility for executions, 40 km outside of Minsk. The current practice of shooting convicts in a prison situated right in the centre of Minsk had become unacceptable. Mr Sivakov stressed that all his decisions had been related to the question of the introduction of a death penalty moratorium, as recently demanded by the Belarusian parliament.

• In reply to my question, he confirmed that the pistol in question was filed away as evidence.

c. Conclusions of Senior Investigator Chumachenko

• After stating that “claims made in the media that the commander of operations brigade no. 3214, Pavlichenko, was involved in the disappearance of V.I. Gonchar and A.S. Krasovski have been checked out”, Chumachenko’s report confirms that the PB-9 pistol was twice signed out, on the dates indicated by Mr Alkayev and documented in the official registry. As to the first time, he refers to the testimony of Mr A.A. Chvankin retracing the signing-out of the pistol as follows: instruction from Minister Sivakov to Vice-Minister Chvankin, who gave orders to deputy head of the equipment department Dik for the issue of two Nagan revolvers and the PB-9 pistol. In Dik’s report it was stated that the weapon in question was to be used for shooting practice by staff of the central administration of the Ministry of the Interior. After receiving authorisation, Dik received the pistol complete with silencer at the SIZO-1 prison, and handed it over to Chvankin. Chumachenko concludes the report on Mr Chvankin’s testimony as follows: “Thereafter the pistol with silencer was used for carrying out special measures but not for shooting training.” The report further states that Mr Chvankin refused to provide information on the subsequent use of the weapon, exactly which measures had been carried out and who had used the gun. Following Chvankin’s refusal to provide information on the use of the pistol, Prosecutor Chumachenko asked the Ministry of the Interior whether operational measures of any kind had been carried out with that weapon, and contented himself with a reply from which he could only conclude that “it is impossible to arrive at a definite conclusion as to whether the weapon issued to V.N. Dik and V.P.Kolesnik was used in operational and search measures carried out by employees of the Ministry of Internal Affairs”.

• With regard to the second signing-out, Chumachenko’s report relates that
Mr Sivakov’s former adjutant, Mr Kolesnik , stated in the course of the investigation that
Mr Sivakov had instructed him to go to the confinement centre, collect the pistol and take it to Deputy Minister Chvankin, which he did. The report goes on to state that Mr Kolesnik later changed his submission, saying that after he had been issued with the weapon at the confinement centre, it was kept in his safe. Thereafter, on the instruction of Mr Sivakov, he returned the weapon to the confinement centre. My preliminary conclusion is that
Mr Kolesnik changed his submission in a clear effort to distort the true facts. It is impossible to accept that the execution pistol was removed from prison in order to be kept in the safe of Mr Kolesnik.

d. The registry book and the pistol itself

• The logbook, the original of which is in safe custody outside Belarus (copies of the relevant pages are in my file), establishes that the gun was indeed signed out and back in on the dates indicated by Mr Alkayev.

• Mr Sivakov confirmed to me that the pistol is (still) part of the case file . [to be completed: results of the forensic expertise of the gun, handwritten gun “receipt” – being translated]

e. My own preliminary conclusions on this issue

• It is certain that the gun was signed out, and in again, on the dates indicated by
Mr Alkayev, which coincide with the dates of two “disappearances” (involving three persons: Zakharenko, Gonchar and Krasovski).

• The “version” advocated by the victims’ families and their lawyers is that the official execution pistol was signed out following legal procedures as part of an enactment of the “official” execution of a secret death penalty against the three persons seen as “traitors” , as a psychological prop for the soldiers employed to commit the acts. This version appears far-fetched, at least at first glance. The Ministry of Interior is hardly short of weapons, including less well-documented ones. Also, the fourth disappearance at issue – that of Mr Zavadski – did not coincide with any documented withdrawal of the official “death gun”.

• But the “version” presented by the former Minister of the Interior, Mr. Sivakov, has some remarkable weaknesses, too. Mr Sivakov explained in some detail that the pistol was signed out in the framework of a wide-ranging study on the Belarusian penitentiary system in general and the method of the execution of the death penalty in particular. I leave it to you to appreciate the credibility of the explanation involving inter alia a comparison with the methods used for the execution of capital punishment in other European countries (sic ), and the assertion that such a wide-ranging study was only conducted orally, as Mr Sivakov confirmed in reply to my explicit question, and was entrusted to a special forces soldier –
Mr Pavlichenko - with no relevant qualifications other than an outstanding combat record.
Mr Sivakov did in the end not exclude that written records may be found, if looked for, on the examination of the pistol. But until today, despite my repeated requests to Mr Konoplev and other officials to present me with a written record, non was submitted, which in my view indicates that none exists. Even in a Western country, if such a sensitive item were removed for study purposes, there would be written records of that study. Even more so, in a centralised system such as that of Belarus, every move should have been recorded in writing.

Whatever credit may be given to Mr Sivakov’s explanation, it must be stressed that it covers in any event only one instance of signing out the pistol. Mr. Sivakov did not offer any explanation for the second signing-out, except to say that it must have also had “technical” and not “operative” reasons, as the Vice-Minister involved, Mr Chvankin, had been in charge of logistics only. Most interestingly, the rather general information given by
Mr Chvankin to Investigator Chumachenko, and the unclear reply to the prosecutor’s further inquiry to the Ministry of the Interior, concern the first signing-out (via Mr Dik and
Mr. Chvankin). The explanation Mr Sivakov offered to me in Minsk that the pistol had been signed out in the framework of the above-mentioned study (which according to Mr Sivakov also included the assessment of the need to purchase a new weapon for the execution of capital punishment) had not been given to Investigator Chumachenko when he first inquired about the reasons for signing out the gun. In Chumachenko’s report on Mr. Sivakov’s questioning during the criminal proceedings, the need for reliable information on the organisation and implementation of the death penalty procedure was only mentioned to explain why Mr. Sivakov had asked Mr Pavlichenko to attend an official execution procedure (as reported by Alkayev). As to the signing-out of the pistol, Mr Sivakov had stated during his questioning that he did not recall giving any such instructions. Later in his memorandum, Prosecutor Chumachenko reports that Vice-Minister Chvankin had confirmed that it was indeed on Minister Sivakov’s instructions that he had the pistol issued. During my conversation with Mr Sivakov, he used the “study” to explain the first signing-out of the pistol, whilst his memory failed him as to whether and why he gave the instruction to have the pistol signed out for the second time, three months later. On this point, according to Investigator Chumachenko’s report, Mr Sivakov’s then adjutant, V.P. Kolesnik, had first admitted to the investigators that he had handed the gun over to Sivakov, on his instructions, although he later he changed his statement .

• The fact that the explanation of needing the pistol for the “study” was not given when Investigator Chumachenko first requested an explanation for the use of the pistol does not add credibility to this “version”.

• The fact that the Prosecutor’s Office did not insist on clarifying the incomprehensible, and apparently suspicious answer received from Mr Chvankin and the Ministry of the Interior in reply to their requests for information on the precise use made of the gun also shows that the investigation was not conducted with the required vigour, on this crucial point.

• As a link between the well-documented gun and the disappearances could easily be established if the bodies (with bullets in them) were found, I am also surprised how little effort was made to find these bodies. Mr Alkayev’s report of Minister Sivakov’s and Colonel Pavlichenko’s questions regarding the places of burial of the bodies of capital punishment victims and the arrest and trial of the “Ignatovich gang” for the abduction of Zavadski could have given rise to searches in the area of the burial places of official death penalty victims, or to a “deal” offered to members of the Ignatovich gang in return for information on where Zavadski was buried.

2. Witness statements and material evidence (paint traces, car fragments) relating to the scene of the abduction of Gonchar and Krasovski

a. Senior investigator Chumachenko’s report

• The Report gives a detailed account of statements of witnesses who saw a red BMW car parked near the sauna in front of which Gonchar and Krasovski were abducted, with at least three young people sitting in it, for virtually the entire second half of the day of the abduction (16 September 1999). Chumachenko’s report also gives details of other witness statements relating suspicious appearances of young men who, in a coordinated way, stopped them from approaching the scene of the abduction, and of “strangers wearing some kind of uniform” barging into neighbouring buildings asking residents whether they had seen or heard something suspicious. One witness had gone outside and saw two cars of foreign make outside the sauna. One was across the roadway, with its front end in the bushes, and the other, a jeep, behind it, with its front windows smashed.
Chumachenko also indicates that during the examination of the scene of events, fragments of white and yellow glass, a scattering of transparent glass and brownish stains resembling blood were found on the tarmac road leading away from the sauna. A vehicle’ skidmarks were also found, as well as signs of it having collided with a tree, from which samples of red paint were taken for analysis. Forensic tests on two splinters of wood submitted for analysis “concluded that they contained “ground-in micro-particles of scarlet-coloured acrylic/melamine paint. The paint may be used for a comparative analysis to establish its common type through sample matching. The traces on the wood are the result of a strong impact at speed”. On the basis of forensic tests of glass fragments and blood stains found on the site of the abduction, it had been established that different glass fragments corresponded to different parts of a 1990 Jeep Cherokee of the type driven that night by Mr Krasovski, and that the blood discovered at the scene of the event is almost certainly that of Mr Gonchar. By contrast, the lamp bulb and bulb-holder taken from the scene of the events by relatives of the victims did in all probability not belong to a 1990 Cherokee Jeep.

b. Explanations given by Interior Minister Naumov and Prosecutor General Sheyman

• I asked Interior Minister Naumov whether an analysis comparing the traces of red paint found on the site of Gonchar’s and Krasovski’s abduction with that of Mr Pavlichenko’s red BMW had actually been conducted. Such a car had been seen by witnesses on the site of the crime, and Prosecutor Chumachenko had said that such an analysis was feasible.
Mr Naumov answered that this would have been up to the investigators in the Prosecutor’s office. As Belarusian officials habitually used service cars for their missions, it never occurred to him to connect the paint traces found and the private car belonging to an officer of the special forces .

• When I put the same question to Prosecutor General Sheyman at my meeting with him later in the day, the Minsk Chief Prosecutor answered that the Prosecution had seen no reason to take paint from Pavlichenko’s car for a comparative study, as witnesses interrogated in the course of the investigation mentioned no such car, but only Russian-made cars such as Schigulis, Moskviches and so on. In addition, the paint traces found were not red, but cherry-coloured, as the Jeep belonging to Krasovski.

• When I confronted him with the written account by senior investigator Chumachenko, Mr. Sheyman offered to provide a written clarification by Chumachenko. I recalled that I had asked to meet Chumachenko in person.

c. My own preliminary conclusions on this issue

• Investigator Chumachenko was quite specific about the witness who had seen a suspicious red BMW parked with a group of young men inside it near the site of the abduction, other witnesses who saw two cars (probably Audis or BMW’s) drive away from the sauna; and yet another witness who saw a “foreign-made” car across the roadway with its front end in the bushes and another, a jeep, behind it, with its front windows smashed . The investigator’s report was also quite specific as regards the colour of the paint found (red paint/scarlet-coloured acrylic-melamine paint). Given that Colonel Pavlichenko had been named as a suspect not only by the victims’ families, but also by the Chief of the Criminal Police in charge of the investigation, General Lapatik, I consider the omission of a comparative test a serious flaw in the investigation. The failure to match the paint amounts in fact to a clear effort of collusion: this simple investigative act might have placed
Mr Pavlichenko’s car at the scene of the abduction and constituted an extremely important link in the circumstantial evidence against him.

• In addition, Chumachenko’s report mentions that relatives of the victims had handed in additional fragments that they had taken from the scene of the events. This makes me wonder about the degree of seriousness with which the official investigators had searched the scene of the crime to secure evidence. As with some other glass fragments found on the scene, these fragments had been examined in order to determine whether they belonged to a Jeep (which, according to Chumachenko, was the case with the other glass fragments, but not with the lamp bulb and bulb holder found by the relatives). But they were not checked in order to see whether they belonged to a BMW of the type driven by Colonel Pavlichenko.
Mr Poganyailo’s legal challenge against Mr Chumachenko’s decision to suspend the investigation, of which I received a copy only after my “official” meetings, was very specific as to the investigative measures that should have been taken in light of these witness statements: to question the members of the SOBR unit 3214 , to carry out an inspection of the vehicles assigned to this unit, examining them for signs of damage and identifying them on the basis of skidmarks, fragments etc. found on the scene, and to examine the log of outgoing vehicles for 16 and 17 September 1999.

• I consider these omissions, despite the requests made by the relatives’ lawyers, the flawed search of the site of the crime, and the contradiction between the version presented in Chumachenko’s written report and that presented to me orally by his superiors so obvious that they even make me wonder whether they were not mere mistakes, but part of a purposeful cover-up.

3. The handwritten accusation by Police General Lapatik of 21 November 2000

• The Chief of the Criminal Police of Belarus, General Lapatik, addressed a handwritten note dated 21 November 2000 to the Minister of the Interior, Naumov. In this note, he accused V. Sheyman (at the time Secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, now Prosecutor General) of having ordered the former Minister of the Interior, Y. Zakharenko, to be physically annihilated. This order was allegedly carried out by Colonel Pavlichenko with the assistance of the then Minister of the Interior, Sivakov, who provided Pavlichenko with the PB-9 pistol temporarily removed from SIZO-1 prison. The same weapon, General Lapatik concluded, was used on 16 September 1999, when Gonchar and Krasovski went missing.

a. (Recent) recognition of the note as genuine

• This handwritten note, with a handwritten visa/instruction by Interior Minister Naumov asking General Lapatik to “implement”, had been leaked and published by Mr Goncharik, presidential candidate, before the last presidential elections . On 18 July 2001, Mr Taranov, press officer at the public prosecutor’s office, issued a statement that this document was “a pre-election provocation aimed at discrediting the President”.

• Mr Sivakov, in an interview in Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta on 24 July 2001 , had stated that the document was fabricated: “From the point of view of its contents – I know Lapatik too well. A professional would never write such a report – there are no arguments or facts there … A teacher would not give a positive mark for such a document even to a second-year student at the police or investigation department.”

• As one of the questions that he had addressed to the Belarusian authorities in September 2003 on behalf of the Ad hoc Sub-Committee on the disappearances, Mr Kovalev had asked whether a graphological examination had been performed to ascertain the author of the handwritten note. I had also indicated, in a conversation in Strasbourg with Belarusian officials, that an expert examination could also be done on the basis of the photocopy of General Lapatik’s note that was in our possession.

• During my visit to Minsk, both Interior Minister Naumov, the addressee of Lapatik’s note, and Prosecutor General Sheyman admitted, to my surprise, that General Lapati

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