(Washington, DC--May 31, 2002) A former officer in Ukraine's SBU, the security and intelligence service, who has been granted political asylum by the United States, told an RFE/RL audience last week that Ukrainian government officials two years ago sold Iraq the Ukrainian-made "Kolchuga" passive radar system which can detect U.S. stealth aircraft.
Mykola Melnichenko, as a major in Ukraine's security service and a member of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's presidential security team recorded over 300 hours of conversations in the presidential office beginning in mid-2000. Information pieced together from the recorded conversations between Kuchma, Leonid Derkatch, head of the SBU at the time, Yuriy Litvin, then head of the presidential administration, and the late Valery Malev, the UKRSPETZEXPORT, Ukraine's arms sales company, details a plan to sell Iraq the radars in violation of the UN sanctions regime.
The shipment of radars, hidden in Ukrainian-made "KRAZ" heavy trucks, used a smuggling route through Jordan with end user certificates provided by an export company known as LR Avianics claiming the shipment was received by Ethiopia's Ministry of Defense. Melnichenko said the recordings definitely confirm that the "KRAZ" shipment was delivered, while LR Avianics was also involved in a 1999 incident when the UN found Romania to be in violation of UN sanctions against Iraq.
Bruce Koenig, an established US expert on audio recordings who authenticated the recordings, attended the briefing. He said that they show no evidence of tampering nor editing. And, Koenig explained that the Toshiba-brand digital dictating system which recorded the conversations onto wave files would show evidence of added text or other tampering. Melnichenko said that he told the US grand jury before whom he has already testified, that "no one ordered me, nor gave me any money" to make the recordings. He himself made the decision to record converations in Kuchma's office and installed the equipment, to help "end organized crime" in Ukraine, Melinichenko said.
His recordings also disclose conversations between Kuchma, Derkatch and Litvin concerning the late Heorhiy Gongadze, a journalist who reported on government corruption and organized crime in Ukraine. Melnichenko said that the motive for having Gongadze murdered was the fact that he was investigating illegal arms sales in Ukaine.