The Investigative Committee of Belarus has notified Alieh Volčak, a legal representative for the family of Juryj Zacharanka that it has resumed an investigation into the 1999 disappearance of the former Belarusian interior minister.
According to Mr. Volčak, the notification was issued on December 18, two days after Germany’s broadcaster Deutsche Welle published an interview with a man claiming to have been involved in the abduction and murder of General Zacharanka, opposition politician Viktar Hančar and businessman Anatoĺ Krasoŭski as a member of a death squad led by Dzmitryj Paŭličenka, the then commander of a special rapid response police unit (SOBR).
In particular, Juryj Haraŭski, 41, who is said to be living as an asylum seeker in a “German-speaking region in the Alps,” claims that he was among the SOBR members who kidnapped General Zacharanka and took him to a military training area where, according to Mr. Haraŭski, the former interior minister was shot dead by the SOBR commander.
“They reopened the case rather promptly,” Mr. Volčak, a former prosecutorial investigator, told the news website belaruspartisan.by. “Investigators are facing a difficult task. Juryj Varaŭka [the Investigative Committee’s officer in charge of the case] must check the alibis of all those named by Yuryj Haraŭski, question them and find out where they were on the days of the disappearances of Zacharanka, Hančar, Krasoŭski and Zavadski.”
“If the investigator fails to do what is required of him in such instances, he may be suspected of concealing evidence of a crime, which is a criminal offense,” Mr. Volčak said.
A year ago the Investigative Committee formally suspended its investigation into Mr. Zacharanka’s disappearance.
Mr. Volčak complained about the suspension to Prosecutor General Aliaksandr Kaniuk, but the complaint was never considered.
“Such a complaint should be filed by [Mr. Zacharanka’s] relatives,” said Mr. Volčak. “But investigative activities are unlikely to resume even if they file a complaint. The suspension [of the investigation] was approved at the highest level.”
Police General Major Zacharanka, who was 47 when he went missing, was President Lukashenka’s interior minister in 1994-95 but joined the opposition camp after being dismissed for allegedly misusing public funds. He became known for his effort to found an organization of police and army officers.
An opposition-formed investigative group led by Mr. Volčak insisted that it had five witnesses to the general being forced into a car by a group of five or six men in civilian clothes on a street in Minsk on May 7, 1999.
The abduction of Yuryj Zacharanka ranks with the disappearance of former Central Election Commission Chairman Viktar Hančar and his friend Anatoĺ Krasoŭski in September 1999, and the case of Dzmitrij Zavadski, a Minsk-based cameraman for Russia's ORT television network who went missing in July 2000.
In his report on the disappearances, made in 2004 by order of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly, Cypriot MP Christos Pourgourides charged that officials at the highest level of the Lukašenka government might have been involved and obstructed attempts to investigate the disappearances.
"As a criminal lawyer, I have no doubt in my mind that these disappearances were ordered at the highest possible level in the establishment of Belarus," Mr. Pourgourides told reporters in Strasbourg in 2004. "I cannot be certain that the order was given by the president himself, but I’m absolutely certain that the order for their abductions was given by people very, very close to the president."
In the run-up to Belarus’ 2001 presidential election, Uladzimir Hančaryk, chairman of the Federation of Trade Unions of Belarus who was one of the candidates, published what appeared to be a handwritten report addressed by the then criminal police chief, Mikalaj Lapacik, to the then interior minister, Uladzimir Navumaŭ. The report, dated November 21, 2000, said that Zacharanka, Hančar and Krasoŭski were physically eliminated by a group led by Dzmitryj Paŭličenka by order of Viktar Šejman, the then state secretary of the Security Council.
Authorities initially denied the existence of such a report, saying that the opposition had fabricated the document to discredit the Lukašenka government, but Minister Navumaŭ later admitted its authenticity.
In a videotaped statement sent to the press in June 2001, a member of the Prosecutor General’s Office’s team that was in charge of the case and a former prosecutorial investigator insisted that acting on orders from Mr. Šejman, Juryj Sivakoŭ, Belarus’ interior minister at the time, had formed a death squad led by Mr. Paŭličenka to eliminate political opponents.