- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 26, 2002

The chief prosecutor of Ukraine says an appellate court is likely to quash a court-ordered investigation of President Leonid Kuchma, whom opponents accuse of selling radar to Iraq and ordering the killing of a reporter who published articles critical of his government.

Earlier this month, a judge in Kiev's appellate court ordered the investigation of Mr. Kuchma for high crimes and abuse of power, based largely on tape recordings by a presidential bodyguard that appear to incriminate Mr. Kuchma.

"The opposition simply wanted to register a case against the president," Prosecutor General Sviatoslav Piskun said in a telephone interview from Kiev, the Ukrainian capital.

Mr. Piskun added that Judge Yuriy Vasylenko, who issued the order, had allied himself with forces in the Ukrainian parliament who are seeking to impeach the president.

Last week, Ukraine's Supreme Court referred the case back to the Kiev Appeals Court, saying it had been improperly initiated, Mr. Piskun said.

Judge Vasylenko has appeared at press conferences organized by the opposition, which has rallied tens of thousands of demonstrators in Kiev's public squares since late September to demand Mr. Kuchma's resignation.

"The president has not been charged with any crimes and cannot be charged under the Ukrainian Constitution, which grants him immunity from prosecution while he is in office," Mr. Piskun said.

He also accused Judge Vasylenko of withholding evidence from prosecutors.

The case charges Mr. Kuchma with 11 crimes, including authorizing the sale of a technologically advanced radar system to Iraq and ordering the killing of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000.

"The president can't be suspected of committing crimes for a long time," Judge Vasylenko said at an Oct. 15 news conference. This is "the best way to know if the president is to blame or not to blame."

Opposition leaders attended Judge Vasylenko's news conference, where they repeated calls for Mr. Kuchma to resign.

The case is in the hands of another judge on the Kiev Appeals Court, Mr. Piskun said.

"Under Article 105 of the Ukrainian Constitution, the president has immunity during his term of office," as do all members of the parliament, said Bogdan Futey, a U.S. federal judge who has served as a constitutional consultant to the Ukrainian government.

Mr. Piskun said he met with FBI officials last week in Washington as part of the investigation. U.S. officials have also traveled to Ukraine to examine reports of the radar sale.

The government denies selling radar to Iraq and says that all radar manufactured in Ukraine are accounted for.

Mr. Piskun said covertly taped conversations of the president telling an aide to go ahead with the radar sale were "digitally altered."

The tapes were made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko in Mr. Kuchma's office.

Mr. Melnychenko brought the tapes to the United States, where he had been given political asylum.

In a separate development, Interfax news agency reported Thursday that Ukraine's parliament narrowly rejected an attempt to begin impeachment proceedings against Mr. Kuchma, falling six votes short of the 226 votes needed.

Natasha Gousseva contributed to this article.

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