High-profile disappearances de facto solved, expert says
The disappearances of Alyaksandr Lukashenka’s four opponents have been solved from a legal point of view, Hary Pahanyayla, a law expert at the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, told reporters in Minsk on August 17.
Many believe that the men were kidnapped and murdered by a government-run death squad.
"Suspects in the crimes have been established. Had it been not the case, we would have had the political motive theory refuted long ago," he stressed.
He noted that the investigations into the disappearance of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka, former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktar Hanchar and his friend, businessman Anatol Krasowski, as well as journalist Dzmitry Zavadski had been recently extended for another two months.
"The disappearance of Yury Zakharanka, a former minister of internal affairs who had confidential, secret information, should have been investigated, this is required by the interests of the state. However, the government has shown that it is not really interested in the case being solved," Mr. Pahanyayla said.
Criminal proceedings were launched in connection with General Zakharanka’s May 1999 disappearance only after Messrs. Hanchar and Krasowski went missing more than four months later, he stressed. The delay proves the theory implicating top government officials in the disappearances, according to Mr. Pahanyayla.
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 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, then commander of an elite police unit, by order of Viktar Sheyman, 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 later Minister Navumaw admitted its authenticity.
In a videotaped statement sent to the media 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.