- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 1, 2002

KIEV As Kiev's relationship with Washington continues to worsen after reports that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma personally approved an illicit sale of a radar system to Iraq, the secretly recorded tapes on which he is reputedly heard approving the order are being called into question.
After an analysis by the FBI, Washington says the 90-second tape segment in which Mr. Kuchma supposedly gave the go-ahead for a $100 million sale of four high-tech radar systems is authentic. Ukrainian specialists have provided their own evidence, saying the tapes were fabricated.
"We requested the original recording and recording device, and completed that analysis," U.S. Ambassador Carlos Pascual said at a news conference in Kiev recently. "A technical and audio analysis concluded [the conversation] was authentic."
Because Washington said it believes the tapes are real, the relationship between the United States and Kiev has dramatically deteriorated. Mr. Kuchma has quickly gone from being a leader embraced by the international community to being disinvited to NATO's recent summit in Prague. He showed up anyway but was snubbed by President Bush and other Western leaders.
The U.S. State Department has indicated to Ukrainian officials that it wants nothing to do with Mr. Kuchma or Ukraine until the country's 2004 presidential elections.
At his news conference in Kiev with the British ambassador, Mr. Pascual, however, repeated that Washington has left the door open to the relationship.
"We believe in the possibility of broadening the relationship," Mr. Pascual said. Washington has cut off $54 million in direct aid to Kiev during a policy review.
The United States and Britain sent a team of 13 inspectors to Kiev last month to determine whether a sale of the Kolchuga system took place. In a scathing mid-November report, the team said it was not able to determine whether the Kolchuga was in Iraq.
"The main finding of this fact-finding mission is that the Government of Ukraine failed to provide the team with satisfactory evidence that the transfer of a Kolchuga to Iraq could not or did not take place," the report said. "As a result, the issue of the transfer must remain open."
The brouhaha over the tapes began last year after a presidential bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, said he had secretly recorded conversations in Mr. Kuchma's office. He charged that the tapes showed massive wrongdoing on the part of the president.
The tapes coincided with the disappearance of a well-known Internet journalist, Georgiy Gongadze, whose headless body was found in a forest 90 miles from Kiev. Fingers were immediately pointed at Mr. Kuchma.
One of the conversations released by Mr. Melnychenko, who has obtained political asylum in the United States, reportedly had Mr. Kuchma telling aides to get rid of the journalist, although the words "kill" or "murder" were never used.
Although disclosure of the tapes provoked a political crisis in Ukraine, Mr. Kuchma rode it out and interest in the tapes declined, until the revelation in the spring by Mr. Melnychenko of the 90-second Iraq segment.
In that segment, Mr. Kuchma is reportedly heard to be speaking with Valeri Malev, then director of Ukrspets Export, the state-run arms exporting company, and giving Mr. Malev the go-ahead to ship the Kolchuga radar system to Iraq. Although Washington initially stayed at arms length from that conversation, in the fall Washington said it believed the conversation took place.
That finding was confirmed by the joint team. What it could not determine was how the conversation came about.
"The avenues of investigation were limited relating to the chain of events leading up to and following President Kuchma's July 10, 2000, approval and of the sale and transfer of the Kolchuga system to Iraq," the report stated.
Despite the American findings, the Ukrainians continue to assert that the Iraq tape is a fabrication. Ukrainian specialists such as Yuriy Popov, a forensic expert with more than two decades of experience in tape analysis, said several problems exist in authenticating the tapes.
For one thing, they were made using a digital recording. Manipulation of a file is much easier to detect in analog recordings, so they are easier to certify as being authentic. Voice compression is so great in digital recordings that similar voices can easily be mistaken for one another.
It would be virtually impossible to authenticate whether it was indeed Mr. Malev speaking to Mr. Kuchma or two hired actors speaking, other experts said privately. Mr. Malev died in a suspicious car accident in March, shortly after a parliamentary commission informed Mr. Kuchma that it had evidence that he had violated the international arms embargo against Iraq.
In today's high-tech world, however, any kind of electronic manipulation is possible using trained specialists, particularly if the tapes are of poor quality, like those released by Mr. Melnychenko. People could splice together a conversation from different time periods to fit their needs, Mr. Popov said.
In addition, at least five or six minutes of speech is necessary for a conversation to be authenticated, Ukrainian specialists said. Moreover, because of syntax, conversations in Ukrainian or Russian and the tapes contain a mixture of these two languages are easier to manipulate than those in English. An authenticator would need to have an understanding of both languages to say for certain that the Ukrainian and Russian conversations are real.
Peter French, a British expert in forensic examination of tape recordings, speech and language, said the difficulty in authenticating Mr. Melnychenko's recordings is because they were made on a digital tape recorder.
Mr. French and a colleague reviewed three conversations from 2002, although he did not listen to the Iraq recording.
"The conclusions are based upon certain assumptions concerning the format of the original recordings," Mr. French wrote in a report about findings made earlier this year by an independent Virginia-based firm that also authenticated the Iraq conversation. "If these assumptions are removed, the conclusions become invalid."
The tape recorder and recording chip used by Mr. Melnychenko are in the possession of the U.S. government, Mr. Pascual said, adding that he did not know which government agency has them.
Meanwhile, Mr. Melnychenko said he is ready to turn over the original recording device and chip used for authentication in Ukraine, provided Mr. Kuchma signs a law on appointing a special prosecutor, investigative commission and steps aside during the review process.
"We are ready to do that," said Andriy Fedur, a Kiev lawyer who is representing Mr. Melnychenko "But we know that will never happen because the authorities here don't want that."
Mr. Fedur said the real problem with the tapes is not the Iraq segment but that they chronicle how Mr. Kuchma deals with opponents who don't want to play by his rules. The most graphic example is what happened to Boris Feldman, a Jewish banker who ran one of Ukraine's largest and most profitable banks.
"The tapes reveal how the president determined to bring down that bank," Mr. Fedur said. "If you listen to the tapes and then see what happened in real life, the events coincided. That's why no one wants the tapes to be authenticated."
Mr. Feldman, who is also represented by Mr. Fedur, was recently sentenced to nine years in prison for financial machinations. Mr. Fedur said he is now trying to get the FBI's findings so they can be used in Ukrainian courts.
Mr. Melnychenko, who spoke to The Washington Times earlier this year, said more tapes incriminating the Ukrainian president in "crimes against humanity" and ties with nations Mr. Bush called parts of an "axis of evil" will be made public.
Ukrainian lawmakers who have access to more than the 45 hours of tapes made public last year said there are other references to Mr. Kuchma's being involved in arms sales to so-called rogue nations.
For his part, Mr. Kuchma said at a news conference recently that he expects more segments to be made public.
"This isn't the last example," Mr. Kuchma said. "Ask the FBI. We turned to the Americans and said, 'If you have the tapes, let's do an analysis together.' We understand the FBI can do everything."


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