- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Ukraine's top prosecutor said yesterday that he had found no evidence to support charges that the government sold forbidden radar systems to Iraq, but conceded he has not questioned President Leonid Kuchma about his role in the scandal.

Prosecutor General Sviatoslav Pyskun said in a telephone interview from Kiev that his review of records in the case and sworn testimony from officials involved left him convinced that Ukraine had not delivered the sophisticated early-warning Kolchuga radar system to Saddam Hussein.

"We have not asked the president directly, but we already know his point of view," Mr. Pyskun said, speaking through an interpreter. "The simplest way to solve this problem is to rely on the evidence, because we are not construing evidence only based on conversations."

A secret tape-recording of Mr. Kuchma from July 2000, apparently authorizing the sale through a Jordanian middleman, prompted the deepest crisis in U.S.-Ukrainian relations in years.

The State Department announced the suspension of $54 million in direct government aid to Ukraine on Sept. 16, after determining that the tapes of Mr. Kuchma, recorded by a disaffected military aide who subsequently sought political asylum in the United States, are authentic.

The Bush administration also ordered a review of overall relations with the former Soviet republic, and a team of U.S. investigators is due in Kiev next week to investigate the matter further. Mr. Pyskun said his office was prepared to give "full cooperation" to the U.S. team but insisted that all the Kolchuga systems manufactured in Ukraine were accounted for.

Mr. Kuchma, who also faces the stiffest domestic political challenge of his 8-year-old rule, gave his "word of honor" yesterday that the radar sale had not gone through and chided the U.S. government for the recent decline in bilateral relations.

"I would never give an order to supply arms to Iraq, under any circumstances," Mr. Kuchma told reporters in Kiev in his first press conference since the U.S. charges were made public.

In the interview Mr. Pyskun appealed to the United States to provide the tapes or full copies to his investigators but did not repeat complaints last week that Ukrainian officials were being treated like "fools" and given only selected excerpts from the hundreds of hours of secret tapes.

The prosecutor general said he would follow up on the request for all the tapes when he travels to Washington for talks with the Justice Department and the FBI early next week.

The secret tapes also appear to implicate Mr. Kuchma in the unsolved slaying in September 2000 of Internet investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze, a harsh critic of the Ukrainian president.

Mr. Kuchma has denied any role in the Gongadze affair. But questions surrounding his death prompted mass demonstrations last week in Kiev demanding the president's resignation.

The prosecutor general said yesterday that he planned to press ahead with a new indictment of opposition politician Yuliya Tymoshenko, one of Mr. Kuchma's harshest critics, as soon as her parliamentary immunity is lifted.

Mrs. Tymoshenko, who has called the new charges politically motivated, was freed by Ukraine's top court after being jailed briefly last year on charges of bribery, fraud and tax evasion stemming from her tenure as head of one of Ukraine's biggest gas-trading companies.

"It is not political," Mr. Pyskun said of the case. "The investigation conducted here and in Russia has confirmed that Tymoshenko and Lazarenko stole $2.5 billion from the government."

Pavel Lazarenko is a former prime minister.

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