Former security service chief Oleksandr Turchynov said he didn’t order the destruction of a case file on reputed mobster Semyon Mogilevich.
Two former heads of the Security Service of Ukraine offered vastly different accounts this week of the alleged role of Semyon Mogilevich in the lucrative gas trade between Ukraine, Russia and other former Soviet states, as well as the contents and fate of secret agency files about the alleged mobster.
Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, who headed the spy agency from 2006 to 2010, told the Kyiv Post in an interview
that documents connecting Mogilevich with the nation’s gas trade had been destroyed by one of his predecessors, Oleksandr Turchynov, in 2005.
Turchynov, who was security service (SBU) chief in 2005, called such claims an “elaborate ruse” to discredit his close ally, former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, who made a fortune in the gas trade in the 1990s.
The controversy over the so-called Mogilevich SBU dossier dates back to the split in a coalition between Tymoshenko and former President Viktor Yushchenko in 2005, largely provoked by arguments over whether to retain gas trader RosUkrEnergo as an intermediary in the lucrative business of importing Russian and Central Asian gas to Ukraine.
Ukrainian politicians have accused each other of connections with alleged mafia boss Mogilevich, who for years has been on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted List of fugitives for alleged fraud.
Mogilevich’s lawyers have consistently denied that he is involved in organized crime or the region’s gas trade. But longstanding claims about Mogilevich’s alleged role in Ukraine returned to the stoplight, thanks to U.S. State Department cables published in recent weeks by the whistleblower WikiLeaks.
U.S. Embassy cables revealed details about the controversy surrounding a secret dossier on Mogilevich compiled by the SBU.
The dossier was allegedly destroyed by Turchynov and his deputy Andriy Kozhemyakin, both staunch Tymoshenko allies, about the time she was fired as prime minister during her first stint on Sept. 8, 2005.
In a U.S. diplomatic cable published on the WikiLeaks website on Dec. 5, former U.S.
Ambassador to Ukraine John Herbst reported that former Interior Minister Yuriy Lutsenko said he had been “ordered” in 2006 by state prosecutors to arrest Turchynov for allegedly destroying hard copies of the Mogilevich dossier.
Lutsenko on Nov. 29 confirmed the authenticity of his conversation with Herbst, described in the cable dated April 14, 2006.
State prosecutors on Feb. 22, 2006, opened a criminal case against Turchynov and Kozhemyakin for allegedly destroying the Mogilevich files, but Kyiv’s Pechersk District court threw out the case four months later.
I think the reason why the Mogilevich dossier was destroyed in 2005 is because the files contained information about intermediaries and their role in the gas trade.”
- Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, former SBU chief.
Prosecutors appealed, before later withdrawing their charges.
Nalyvaichenko, the SBU chief from 2006 to 2010, told the Kyiv Post on Dec. 7 that SBU records about Mogilevich dating back to the early 1990s indeed went missing.
He said the documents detailed the alleged mobster’s role in the gas trade in the mid-1990s, including ties with top officials close to Tymoshenko, who then headed a lucrative gas trading business called United Energy Systems of Ukraine (UESU).
“I think the reason why the Mogilevich dossier was destroyed in 2005 is because the files contained information about intermediaries and their role in the gas trade,” Nalyvaichenko said.
Nalyvaichenko identified one alleged link between Mogilevich and top officials then as Igor Fisherman, who is also wanted by the FBI as an associate of Mogilevich.
Fisherman, who along with Mogilevich is believed to reside in Russia, worked as an advisor to former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko in the 1990s when Tymoshenko headed UESU.
Tymoshenko and Lazarenko were political allies during the 1998 parliamentary election, when their Hromada Party won 24 seats in parliament.
Tymoshenko’s opponents have frequently accused her of making illicit proceeds during the mid-1990s in tandem with Lazarenko, when UESU controlled a large share of domestic supplies.
Tymoshenko has repeatedly denied wrongdoing and has distanced herself from Lazarenko, a convicted U.S. felon who is still serving an eight-year prison sentence in the U.S. for laundering money.
Speaking to the Kyiv Post by telephone on Dec. 8, Turchynov said there was no specific dossier on Mogilevich that could have been destroyed. But he and Kozhemyakin were evasive in answering specific Kyiv Post questions.
Turchynov did say, however, that it was routine procedure to destroy hard copies of old criminal investigation files. In any case, it would have been impossible to erase backup records from the agency’s computer system, he added.
“At the time, the General Prosecutor’s Office [loyal to Tymoshenko’s opponents], not the SBU, was in charge of investigating of alleged ties between UESU and organized crime groups during the 1990s,” he added, referring to accusations that point to an alleged link between Tymoshenko and Mogilevich associates.
Both Turchynov and Kozhemyakin refused to answer in detail what role Fisherman could have played as an advisor to Lazarenko on energy issues.
Both denied knowing Fisherman, but could not explain clearly if an investigation is warranted to look into what role this alleged Mogilevich associate had as an advisor to Lazarenko at a time when Tymoshenko profited greatly as a business women in the country's murky gas trading business.
“I don’t know what Fisherman was doing there. This is a question for Lazarenko,” Kozhemyakin said, adding that he never investigated the issue.
Kozhemyakin said that if political opponents have any qualms, they should show the evidence and prosecutors should pursue the case.
The controversy over the so-called Mogilevich files was an elaborate ruse engineered by Yushchenko and his inner circle to deflect attention from their plans to [preserve] RosUkrEnergo as an intermediary [in 2005]."
- Oleksandr Turchynov, one of the opposition leaders, Yulia Tymoshenko supporter.
Fisherman and Lazarenko were not immediately available for comment. Turchynov’s successor at the SBU, Ihor Drizhchany, declined to comment when contacted by telephone on Dec. 6.
Turchynov said accusations about him destroying the dossier were an attempt to divert attention from the accusers’ own links with RosUkrEnergo.
“The controversy over the so-called Mogilevich files was an elaborate ruse engineered by Yushchenko and his inner circle to deflect attention from their plans to [preserve] RosUkrEnergo as an intermediary [in 2005],” Turchynov said.
The majority of WikiLeaks documents released thus far appear to focus more on a suspected Mogilevich connection to RosUkrEnergo, not Tymoshenko.
One WikiLeaks cable, released on Nov. 29 by Russian Reporter magazine, linked Mogilevich to RosUkrEnergo, co-owned by Ukrainian gas tycoon Dmytro Firtash and Russian state energy firm Gazprom.
Another cable authored by former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor, dated Dec. 10, 2008, reports links between Firtash – who has ties to President Viktor Yanukovych’s inner circle – and Mogilevich. The brief quotes Firtash as saying that he “needed and received permission from Mogilevich when he established various businesses.”
Firtash in a press release on Dec. 2 denied he has ever stated that he needed or received permission from Mogilevich to establish any of his businesses.
But Firtash has not responded to requests by the Kyiv Post’s for more detailed comment on his reported ties to Mogilevich and alleged corruption in Ukraine’s energy sector.
RosUkrEnergo and its shareholders have repeatedly denied links to Mogilevich, but top Ukrainian officials in government, including Tymoshenko as prime minister, and lawmakers speaking in parliament, have over the years suggested that he and close associates were involved.
Kyiv Post staff writer Peter Byrne can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org