What is the cost of the state reputation?
We shall remind the reader one of the most notorious political scandals of the end of the last year.
On 8 December 2000 MPs S. Golovaty, O. Zhir and V. Shishkin brought to Kyiv the audio and video records of their talks with the USS officer, who had passed to O. Moroz the cassette with the conversations of top state officers about journalist Gongadze. This group of MPs went abroad on the instructions of the provisional parliamentary investigation commission in order to make sure that the cassettes are not faked. Borispol custom officers, having violated Article 80 of the Constitution and Article 27 of the Law ‘On the status of a peoples deputy of Ukraine, made a search of personal luggage of the MPs and confiscated the videocassette. According to one of the MPs, USS colonel O. Zhir, they returned the cassette some time later in a damaged state.
Because of this on 12 December 2000 the General prosecutors office started criminal case No. 47-348. In a month the group of prosecutor investigators of the Kyiv oblast came to the conclusion: ‘… the actions of the Borispol custom officers… have the infrequent character and did not cause any essential damage to state or public interests, or state or citizens interests guarded by law; that is why their actions may not be qualified as a crime mentioned by Article 166 part 1 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine. The case was closed.
The deputies appealed against this decision and brought the complaint to court about the compensation of moral damage.
Exactly at the same time in the same Borispol customs A. Tutunnik, the president of the Kherson oblast fund of mercy and health, passed the custom control. She returned from the education course at Helsinki fund of human rights. Lately she testified in the Borispol town court as an eyewitness of the event, about which the deputies and the custom officers tell absolutely different things.
Correspondent: Ms Tutunnik, what has really happened at Borispol custom control on 8 December?
A. T.: I came from Warsaw together with Olena Volochay (she is from the town of Komsomolsk of the Poltava oblast, a member of the public organization ‘For professional assistance) and Olga Kononenko (a member of the Sevastopol human rights protection group). We passed through the passport control without delay and directed to the ‘green passage. But the passage appeared to be closed. We turned our attention at a group of people at the end of the passage, they loudly protested. We recognized one of the protesters – deputy Golovaty. He demanded from a custom officer to show the document, according to which he was detained for personal search and luggage control. The officer answered in a quiet voice, so we did not hear what he was saying. Golovaty cried out: ‘You are going to search me today, not tomorrow – so show me the document now, not in the future! The officer answered something again, and Golovaty said even louder: ‘I have shown my documents (waving his ID in front of the officers eyes), and you must show me yours. I have introduced myself – I am a peoples deputy, Sergey Golovaty, and who are you? I want to know who are you. Again I did not hear the answer of the officer. And the MP added: ‘I shall speak loudly to enable everyone to hear that here the Constitution of Ukraine is being violated, that you want to search peoples deputies. I warn you for the last time that here the criminals are not those, whom you are going to search, but those, who gave orders to violate the Constitution, and that you will be responsible for it.
Two more custom officers and several people in civil clothes were standing near Golovaty. They blocked the exit, and when Golovaty rushed to the door, they stood in his way. MP Zhir was standing near Golovaty too, a little aside deputy Shishkin was standing also surrounded by some strangers in civil clothes. At first I thought that the deputies committed some crime, were followed. I thought that their luggage will be checked and they would be detained red-handed. Shishkin standing by the wall and surrounded by sturdy men seemed to be already detained.
Cor.: Did the custom officers try to explain what made them violate the law?
A. T.: We did not hear what the officers were saying. As the deputies told later, they were told that an experiment was carried out at the custom controls that day, that is why the baggage of all passengers was checked. At the interrogation at the prosecutors office the custom officers told that two days before the event they had received the letter signed by the first deputy of the USS head, which read that soon somebody will take a great party of diamonds from Africa, and that the diamonds may be hidden in the boxes with audio or video cassettes.
Cor.: Did they suspect the deputies too?
A. T.: All the custom officers repeat that they allegedly did not know that they were searching deputies, that the deputies did not show their IDs and did not introduce themselves. And they informed that they were deputies only after the beginning of the search, then the officers immediately stopped the search. But this is not true. Golovaty cried out that he was a deputy at the top of his voice, everybody present heard it. At the court session the militia officer, to whom Golovaty showed hid documents and explained several times that he was a peoples deputy, said that he ill that day with otitis, so his hearing was inadequate. As to the plain-clothed agents, who blocked the way out, the custom officers said that they were just curious passersby.
Cor.: All the custom controls throughout the world are provided with special video equipment, the control is especially strict, when there is a suspicion of smuggling. Was it difficult to look at the video records and thus to establish the truth?
A. T.: The officers insist that just at the moment of the incident the person in charge of the video recording was sent to baggage store. There was much work and shortage of the personnel. So they had no record taken of the event.
Cor.: And all the three of you decided to become witnesses? Were you acquainted with any of the MPs? Do you support their political views?
A. T.: We saw them only on TV-screens. And the political views in this case are not important. What is important is the brutal ignoring of the Constitution and the violation of Law in presence of hundreds of people, with many foreigners among them, including the ambassador of Poland in Ukraine.
Cor.: And what happened next?
A. T.: Next deputy Golovaty came to his valise, opened it and began to demonstrate each item to the custom officers. Doing this, he explained: ‘This is deputy Golovatys bathrobe, this is deputy Golovatys shaving tackle, this is deputy Golovatys pants, this is deputy Golovatys socks… At this time deputy Zhir came up to his luggage, opened a suitcase it and started demonstrating his things to a lady-officer. He just was taking out a video camera, when the lady saw a videocassette in his suitcase and snatched it. Zhir asked: ‘Is it the thing that you are looking for, for which you are breaking the law? After this the woman took her walkie-talkie and said to the mike: ‘Send militia at once, there is a hooligan here. That was a decisive moment: we saw that there was no hooliganism, that now this woman would frame the deputies, the militia would detain them, and nobody could prevent this. I thought: if such may happen to a deputy, what can be done with me, with all of us, common citizens, unprotected by deputies inviolability?
Deputy Golovaty came up to the lady-officer and said: ‘It is my cassette, took it and tried to go away, but the automatic door closed before his nose. He had to return. He gave back the cassette to the lady-officer and only then he was allowed to get out. We hurried after him to say that if he sued, we are ready to be witnesses.
Cor.: What do you mean ‘hurried? And what about the custom control?
A. T.: We passed the custom control in the ‘red passage very quickly. Nobody asked our declarations, nobody checked our baggage. I was asked: ‘Were have you come from? – ‘From Warsaw – ‘Pass on. I had an impression that the custom officers wanted to get rid of eyewitnesses as soon as possible. We did not find Golovaty in the airport. That is why we phoned to the main office of the Juridical fund, which he heads and left our addresses and phone numbers for the case if he needs witnesses.
Cor.: Were there any other eyewitnesses except you, who agreed to give testimony?
A. T.: No. Moreover, no one of the custom officers, who were present at the court session, believed that we were not relatives of Golovaty or Zhir. They have got accustomed that everybody suffers without protest. They cannot believe that someone, without being paid or getting some other profit, but because of ones dignity and social responsibility, may come from afar to give testimony against state officers, and not tremble of fear in the process.
Cor.: Did anyone try to convince you to refuse from giving evidence?
A. T.: We felt uncomfortably before the trial. It was clear that the custom officers violated the law not by their initiative and those, who gave orders could turn their anger against us. All of us were summoned to the local prosecutors offices at the place of our residence and interrogated. I must complement the Kherson oblast prosecutors office because its officers were correct and professional. We felt uncomfortably also because many people asked us: ‘Why do you need all of that?
Cor.: And indeed, why do you need all of that?
A. T.: I live in this state, I am not going to emigrate, so I want this country to be civilized and my rights and freedoms were not violated.
This story morally damaged me not less than the MPs. It was convincingly demonstrated to me that in this country neither laws, nor deputies, nor even the Constitution will not protect me against arbitrary actions of the authorities. They even did not attempt to invent something more convincing than the story about African diamonds. My colleagues and I felt humiliated. Moreover, I am convinced that both state and public interests were considerably damaged, since, after this event citizens will have difficulties in trusting the state. I do not say about the respect to our state on the side of foreigners…
Cor.: Is everything so hopeless in our country?
A. T.: I do not reckon so. The very fact that this case is considered in court is very hopeful. I expect this court to be just. If our courts satisfied the claims against state officers, who abuse rights and freedoms of citizens, and fined the guilty (in the case described the sum of compensation is Hr 100,000), then the situation in the country will improve.
The interview was taken by Andrey Matrosov