Ex-Kuchma Bodyguard Contests Extradition

KIEV, Ukraine -- Mykola Melnychenko, a former presidential bodyguard, who was on Friday detained in Italy at Ukraine's request, on Monday contested his extradition and fears for his life, his lawyer said.

Mykola Melnychenko

Melnychenko, who controls thousands of hours of confidential conversations recorded in the office of then-President Leonid Kuchma in 1996-2000, may use the information ahead of the October 28 parliamentary elections.

“Now the life and the health of Mykola Melnychenko are in danger,” Nedilko said, Kommersant daily reported on Monday.

Melnychenko fled Ukraine last year shortly after a court cleared Leonid Kuchma of any allegations that he may have ordered the murder of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze 12 years ago.

Melnychenko was detained in Italy on Friday at the request of Ukraine, as the Ukrainian authorities had been seeking his extradition to the country.

The Prosecutor General’s Office on Monday declined to comment on the developments.

But Nedilko said the authorities may be seeking Melnychenko’s extradition in order to get his testimony at an upcoming court hearing against opposition leader and former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

Tymoshenko, who was jailed to seven years in prison in October 2011 for abuse of office, is facing at least two more investigations and trials, involving alleged tax embezzlements and the murder of Yevhen Shcherban, a lawmaker and a prominent businessman, in 1996.

“I don’t rule out the detention of Melnychenko is connected with the Shcherban case,” Nedilko said.

“He told me that he’s got the recordings.”

The prosecutors alleged that Tymoshenko, then an owner and manager of a leading natural gas trader, paid for the murder of Shcherban.

Tymoshenko denied the allegations as an ‘absurd’ and said they were politically motivated against her as a political rival of President Viktor Yanukovych.

Tymoshenko’s trial and the sentence are widely regarded by Western governments as a politically motivated prosecution of the opposition leader in Ukraine.

But any link to the murder would potentially deal a much bigger blow to the reputation of Tymoshenko, and could weaken her defense, analysts said.

Melnychenko’s recordings could apparently either prove or disprove the murder allegations.

Kuchma, who was investigated for his alleged role in the murder of Gongadze in September 2000, during a trial in Kiev last year had called Melnychenko a Russian spy.

The court later cleared Kuchma, while Melnychenko had shortly afterwards fled Ukraine.

Source: Ukrainian Journal