Investigation into 1999 disappearance of Yury Zakharanka prolonged once again
The years-long investigation into the 1999 disappearance of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka has been prolonged until March 24, human rights defender Aleh Volchak told BelaPAN on Monday.
He said that he received earlier this month a note saying that the investigation had been extended. “It was yet another note that I receive from investigators once every three months. I don’t understand how it is possible to investigate something for 13 years in the row. The investigators had enough time to question half of all Belarusian citizens and engage in other numerous investigative activities. After all, it is easy to find the culprits. There is every piece of information about who abducted Zakharanka and how on the Internet.”
Last year, pro-democratic activists asked the Prosecutor General’s Office to investigate a statement by Dzmitry Novichak, a person said to have served in the interior ministry’s number 3214 special rapid response unit whose then chief, Dzmitry Pawlichenka, and other members carried out the alleged killing of Mr. Zakharanka and several other Lukashenka opponents, said Mr. Volchak. “But nothing seems to be going on.”
He said that the newly established Investigation Committee would now be in charge of the investigation. “I have only one question: what law-enforcement officials are behind the crime. I think that they anyway will not flee justice."
Police General Zakharanka, who was 47 when he went missing, was President Alyaksandr Lukashenka`s interior minister in 1994-95 but joined the opposition after being dismissed for allegedly misusing public funds. He became known for his effort to found an organization of police and army officers.
An opposition-formed investigative group led by Mr. Volchak, a former prosecutorial investigator, insisted that it had five witnesses to the general being forced into a car by a group of five or six people in civilian clothes on a street in Minsk on May 7, 1999. The witnesses described the alleged kidnappers and the car.
The abduction of Yury Zakharanka ranks with the disappearance of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktar Hanchar and his friend, businessman Anatol Krasowski, in September 1999, and the case of Dzmitry Zavadski, a Minsk-based cameraman for Russia`s ORT television network, who went missing in July 2000.
In his report on the disappearances, made in 2004 by order of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Cypriot MP Christos Pourgourides charged that officials at the highest level of the Lukashenka government might have been involved and obstructed attempts to investigate the disappearances.
"As a criminal lawyer, I have no doubt in my mind that these disappearances were ordered at the highest possible level in the establishment of Belarus," Mr. Pourgourides told reporters in Strasbourg in 2004. "I cannot be certain that the order was given by the president himself, but I`m absolutely certain that the order for their abductions was given by people very, very close to the president."
In the run-up to Belarus` 2001 presidential elections, Uladzimir Hancharyk, chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus who was one of the candidates, published what appeared to be a handwritten report addressed by the then criminal police chief, Mikalay Lapatsik, to the then interior minister, Uladzimir Navumaw. The report, dated November 21, 2000, said that Zakharanka, Hanchar and Krasowski were physically eliminated by a group led by Dzmitry Pawlichenka, commander of an elite police unit, by order of Viktar Sheyman, the then state secretary of the Security Council.
Authorities initially denied the existence of such a report, saying that the opposition had fabricated the document to discredit the Lukashenka government, but Minister Navumaw later admitted its authenticity.
In a videotaped statement sent to the press in June 2001, a member of the Prosecutor General`s Office`s team that was in charge of the case and a former prosecutorial investigator insisted that acting on orders from Mr. Sheyman, Yury Sivakow, interior minister at the time, formed a death squad led by Mr. Pawlichenka to eliminate political opponents.