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27 February, 2012

"It’s better to go endure the Afghan War than interrogations in the Prosecutor General’s Office"

Valeriy Melnyk, former chief of the apparatus, aide and advisor to Yuriy Lutsenko, is considered a key witness in the case against the former Interior Minister. The Prosecutor General’s Office pinned special hopes on this witness during pre-trial investigation. Recorded by Kateryna Hladka

Melnyk testified in court on October 9, 2011. According to the defence, the prosecution is considering the possibility of opening a criminal case against him for changing his testimony. The Ukrainian Week met Melnyk to learn the details of his interrogation in the Prosecutor General’s Office and the pressure he talked about in court.

U.W.: How come some witnesses for the defence withdrew the testimonies they gave in the Prosecutor General’s Office?

I want to tell you that it is better to go through the Afghan War than be interrogated in the prosecutor general's office. First, I had just had surgery and needed to have fresh bandages put on. Meanwhile, they would not even let me, pardon the details, go to the bathroom. They took away my phone and watched my every step. These people are indifferent to all things human. Then they took me to a room where I was interrogated by three people. They questioned me about Lutsenko’s wife, his driver and personal life. When I asked them whether this was an interrogation, they said it was just an ordinary conversation.

I was in a condition that required my taking medications regularly. They did not let me do anything, even though I kindly asked them several times. The first interrogation continued for about 10 hours during which I did not drink or eat anything and had no right to leave anywhere.

U.W.: Were you threatened during the interrogation?

Yes. They explained to me that the case had to be closed as soon as possible, and said that if I did not answer their questions, I would follow Lutsenko to prison. Their tone was threatening.

The transcript of the interrogation contained a lot of nonsense, and I asked to have it redone. They did so for the second interrogation. During the third one they videoed everything, but my physical condition did not permit me to speak normally. They showed me a computer screen with questions and answers that I had to read.

When I asked them to give me the text to read it again, they refused. I was distracted in different ways and so I signed what the Prosecutor General's Office needed.

U.W.: Didn’t you understand what you were reading? Did you try to refuse?

I tried to refuse, but they forced me to read. They brought up personal moments, because this system knows everything. Let me repeat that my physical condition was poor, and with the diagnosis I had, I was unable to answer questions normally. But in court I said that my testimony in the Prosecutor General's Office was given under pressure. People working in that structure are inhuman.

U.W.: You know most of the witnesses. What did conversations with them look like?

Pressure was exerted on virtually everyone. It depended on a particular person's importance for the case. They had a special approach to me, because I was closest to Lutsenko.

U.W.: Were any conversations held with you before you testified in court?

Yes. The TVi channel even carried out an investigation into that. The chief of the Investigation Directorate at the Prosecutor General’s Office called me and insisted we meet. I asked him what for, and he said that it was about the next day's hearing in the Lutsenko case. Even though I was not in Kyiv, I came and met with him in the morning before the court session. They consistently requested that I not withdraw testimony I gave during the pretrial investigation under any circumstances. I replied that I would say everything in court, and then they threatened that a criminal case would also be opened against me. In court, I said that I was feeling miserable during the interrogation and that I was forced to read from a computer screen.

U.W.: Were your phones tapped?

Yes. I was forced to change my telephone number. Moreover, they tapped my family's phones, too. I know that from trustworthy sources. This is precisely why I threw out two of my SIM-cards.

U.W.: Could you please describe the procedure according to which housing was provided to Lutsenko’s driver?

The Housing Commission looked into that. His driver was from Rivne Region. So did he have to move from one apartment to another or not? He moved around with Lutsenko all the time. All the documents went through the minister’s apparatus and were signed by all his deputies. A meeting of the Housing Commission decided to provide (Leonid) Prystupliuk with a flat. To my knowledge, Lutsenko did not personally make this decision.

U.W.: Do you think that people from Lutsenko’s inner circle were already preparing a “future case” against him back then?

I don't rule it out. There may have been someone who did not like Lutsenko’s activity. The Interior Ministry also has a certain caste-like nature, and Lutsenko was an outsider. He was a highly principled and democratic person – he never raised his voice, loved the truth and was against torture. I remember he asked all services about torture in the police. That could have gone against someone's grain. He suffered for the truth. Lutsenko was not afraid of being public, and regularly met with the press and publicized reports.

U.W.: This is the first case of this kind in Ukraine. Is Lutsenko such a big threat?

Let me emphasize once again that he paid for his love for the truth. He inherited it from his father who also always defended people’s interests. The Lutsenko case is vengeance for his words; it’s the animal fear of this government. They are perfectly aware that if Lutsenko were free, more energetic protests would already be taking place across the country. He could be a leader.

U.W.: What is your prediction regarding the verdict in his case?

Our justice system is now following commands from Bankova Str. Because the Lutsenko case is politically motivated, you cannot expect any comforting results here. This system is like a steamroller: all dissenters find themselves under the press.

U.W.: Do you think the European Court of Human Rights can influence the case?

I believe the verdict will be delivered earlier. I have a feeling that they will do it by Soviet Army Day, February 23. The case is being artificially sped up. Regarding the European Court of Human Rights, do you see how Ukraine is fulfilling PACE resolutions? Europe does not trust us. The animal fear of the powers-that-be forced them to resort to all possible methods in order to destroy Yulia Tymoshenko and Lutsenko in the political arena. One thing that grieves me is that an innocent person has been behind bars for so long for no good reason.

U.W.: If Lutsenko is sentenced to prison, what will happen next?

First, an appeal and then another submission to the European court. But it also takes a strong-willed decision by a judge, yet our entire justice system is working for one party. However, I still believe in popular wrath. We cannot tolerate this for too long. Sooner or later people’s patience will be exhausted.

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