Investigation into 1999 disappearance of Yury Zakharanka prolonged once again

2013 2013-10-10T16:46:35+0300 2013-10-10T16:46:35+0300 en

Mr. Volchak, who is an official representative of the Zakharanka family, was notified of the extension by the Investigative Committee of Belarus.

"It is yet another formal notification that I receive once every three months,” Mr. Volchak said. “I've got about 40 letters like that in the last 14 years. Authorities are doing nothing to find out who murdered Zakharanka. The limitation period for premeditated murder is 15 years. Investigators are simply waiting for the period to expire."

Authorities have repeatedly ignored calls to classify the abduction and murder of Mr. Zakharanka as a "crime against peace and the safety of humanity," Mr. Volchak said, explaining that there was no statute of limitations for such offenses.

Police General Zakharanka, who was 47 when he went missing, was President Alyaksandr Lukashenka`s interior minister in 1994-95 but joined the opposition camp 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.