Former SOBR member Yuryi Harauski acquitted in the case of disappearance of opposition politicians
On September 19 and 20, the court of the canton of St. Gallen in Switzerland tried a former SOBR member, Yuryi Harauski, who in 2019 publicly declared his involvement in the abduction of opposition politicians. On September 28, his acquittal was announced. He was tried within the universal jurisdiction. Harauski was found not guilty under the article on the disappearance of people, namely former Interior Minister Yuryi Zakharanka, former Central Electoral Commission Chairman Viktar Hanchar, and businessman Anatol Krasouski, as well as under the article on perverting the course of justice. The prosecutor asked for three years of imprisonment for him, but the court decided to acquit him, writes Deutsche Welle.
Recall that in 2019, Yuryi Harauski, having received asylum in Switzerland, confessed to the German news outlet DW to involvement in the abduction and murder of opposition politicians of the late 1990s.
In his last word at the trial, Harauski said:
"Respected court. You're going to make a decision now. If you make a harsh decision, no one else in the world will report crimes of the authorities. I apologize to the relatives and loved ones of the victims, and I hope for a fair punishment of the Swiss court."
On September 28, judge Olav Humbel acquitted him of both charges: enforced disappearance of people and perverting the course of justice. Yuryi Harauski said that he understood the verdict. According to Novy Chas, 200 thousand francs civil lawsuits from Alena Zakharanka and Valeryia Krasouskaya will be sent to another court. Deutsche Welle writes that explaining the verdict, the judge said that this is a special case in which "the authorities are involved, and they are responsible for enforced disappearances."
"These facts should not cause doubts. But during the interrogation, the accused became entangled in contradictions and evaded answers," the judge explained his decision.
He considered that Harauski had made up some of his testimony. The court concluded that Yuryi Harauski may have served in SOBR, but his role in the abductions remains unclear.
"Perhaps he heard about it from his colleagues," the Deutsche Welle correspondent reports the judge's words.
"Due to the contradictory testimony of the accused, his actual participation in the disappearance of Yuryi Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski in 1999 cannot be considered legally proven.
For the same reason, it cannot be considered proven that he perverted the course of justice, which means that he falsely accused himself of involvement in a criminal offense.
This time, the public prosecutor, the legal representatives of the private plaintiffs and the defense side came to a consensus, because they agree that the defendant's story should be believed. Thus, the court could make the task easier for itself and believe the accused, and all the parties involved — which happens quite rarely — this time would be completely satisfied with the court.
However, the wording of the law "...on behalf of or with the approval of the State or political organization..." makes it clear that another person or force is involved in this case and plays an important role there. Namely, the side which is ultimately responsible for the disappearances. This force (authorities) is not represented in this trial.
However, since the current trial and decision must also have legal force in relation to the aforementioned authorities, they must also stand up to our principles of the rule of law, which means that the facts on which the judgment is based must be beyond any reasonable doubt. It is therefore important to check the statements of the accused.
The accused became entangled in numerous contradictions during his various interviews: for example in the asylum procedure, in the investigation procedure before the public prosecutor's office, and finally in court.
It is therefore astonishing that the accused is unable to answer simple questions from the court regarding the classification of the Interior Ministry units in the overall military structure. If you insist, he evades, tells you something completely different or simply says it's too complicated to explain.
He described the case in detail, but then had to admit in the criminal investigation that he had made up this story. In reality, he served a prison sentence of several years for extortion until the beginning of May 2002. He also confirmed that he had taken part in so-called veterans' meetings several times a year and had remained in contact with P. and Colonel or General S., and stated several times during the investigation that he was asked by his superior P. to get the gun from his red BMW, which had been seen by witnesses, whereupon he brought the weapon to P have. The latter then killed Yuryi Zakharanka with two shots in the back.
Regarding the murder of Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski, the accused stated in the criminal investigation that he had carried the gun during the entire operation. He then gave it to P. at his behest, who then shot both of them with two shots each in the back. At the court hearing, he suddenly denied having anything to do with the gun.
It is generally known that traces of Viktar Hanchar's blood were found at the place of arrest. This probably got through to the accused, so that he now regularly claims that he intentionally ensured that traces of blood would be found by hitting Viktar Hanchar in the face. However, this explanation seems absurd. Apparently he is trying to connect his story with proven elements to make it seem more credible.
He explained in court that he had been thinking about fleeing Belarus since the execution of Yuryi Zakharanka in 1999. It therefore seems remarkable that he spent almost 20 years there. He also claimed that he had never left Belarus during this time, only to later explain elsewhere that he had traveled to Ukraine several times for professional reasons. Apparently this gave him room to maneuver, which would have enabled him to escape earlier.
He also claims to have constantly felt threatened and still feels threatened. He is said to have suffered a car accident in 2007 and sometimes 2008 and was in a coma for 16 days. The accident was actually an assassination attempt on him. They wanted to kill him because of his knowledge. But why forces that can murder leading politicians in Belarusian society should not be able to make him disappear permanently remains a mystery.
Overall, the defendant's statements do not appear particularly credible.
It is possible or even probable that the accused actually served in Unit 3214 or the SOBR. However, it remains unclear whether and to what extent he was actually involved in the actions brought against him. It remains possible that he heard details about these actions from other comrades, either during or after his service, for example at his regular veterans' meetings, or learned from the media.
It's possible that his primary aim was simply to support his request for asylum in Switzerland with as dramatic a description as possible. He himself explained that he had turned to the mass media because it had been explained to him that in this way he could have a positive influence on his asylum decision.
It is not the task of the district court to clarify the actual circumstances of the disappearance of Yuryi Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar, and Anatol Krasouski. This is a matter for the investigating authorities. The district court must limit itself to deciding whether the facts presented to it are proven or beyond any reasonable doubt.
The accused must also be acquitted of the charge of misleading the administration of justice. He never falsely claimed that Yuryi Zakharanka, Viktar Hanchar and Anatol Krasouski were murdered; rather, it can be assumed that these three men were actually murdered. Nor can it be proven that he falsely claimed to have been involved in the murder of the three men, as it cannot be determined with the necessary certainty whether and to what extent he was involved in their murder.
Apart from this announcement, the court will not provide any further information to media professionals."