Ukraine's Ex-Security Service Chief Denies Agents Poisoned President Yushchenko

KIEV, Ukraine -- The former chief of the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU), Ihor Smeshko, has denied that SBU officers could have been involved in a plot to poison President Viktor Yushchenko during last year's election campaign, according to the BBC Monitoring Service.

Ex-SBU Chief Ihor Smeshko

Smeshko, who headed the SBU under former President Leonid Kuchma, was interviewed live on Ukraine's pro-government 5 Kanal TV, in connection with his libel suit against Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun following Piskun's allegations that Smeshko had been involved in arms smuggling and blocking investigation into the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.

Smeshko told the channel's presenter, Roman Skrypin, that the charges were untrue and that it was his staff who found key witnesses in the Gongadze case. He accused Piskun of looking for scapegoats in a bid to cover up his failure in high-profile investigations, such as the Gongadze murder and Yushchenko's poisoning.

"I have reasons to believe that the poisoning is not being investigated," Smeshko said. "There are certain attempts on the part of top Prosecutor-General's Office people to find scapegoats in the poisoning of President Yushchenko. The president is being misinformed, and this can have serious consequences because it is impossible to prove something that did not happen."

Smeshko and his deputy, Volodymyr Satsyuk, had a private dinner meeting with Yushchenko when he was presidential candidate for the opposition, after which Yushchenko became ill, leading to Satsyuk becoming a suspect. Satsyuk has gone into hiding fearing arrest.

"I can confirm again that no Security Service personnel, from the head to ordinary operatives, including former deputy chief Satsyuk, had anything to do with the deterioration of Viktor Yushchenko's health. I am absolutely confident that Viktor Andriyovych knows this.

"Otherwise Viktor Andriyovych Yushchenko would not have thanked me for the cross I had to bear during the Orange Revolution - those were his words when he presented Mr [Oleksandr] Turchynov [the new head of SBU]."

He compared Satsyuk to the former interior minister Yuriy Kravchenko, who is believed to have committed suicide after being summoned for questioning over his role in the Gongadze murder. "I am inclined not to believe that he committed suicide. The information I have at the moment poses huge questions why the murder version was not pursued."

Asked why he did not support the Orange Revolution, Smeshko said his main goal had been to prevent bloodshed. "During the Orange Revolution, Security Service officials did their utmost to prevent a single drop of blood being shed. There were forces on both sides, in both political movements, who were prepared to pay the price of people's blood for the end result."

He denied Security Service staff tapped phone lines during the election campaign, adding that any illegal phone bugging was the work of private agents. "The Security Service acted exclusively within the law, and I made sure this was the case, as far as possible. I am not ashamed to look my former staff and the people of Ukraine in the eye."

He expressed concern at civil servants of the former presidency losing their jobs under the new government and called for legislation to protect civil servants.

Asked about the possibility of opening files on Ukrainian officials who collaborated with the KGB, Smeshko said many files had been destroyed prior to his coming into post.

Source: Unian