Accident by design – Odessa City Hall investigations

On 2nd August a car accident, or perhaps more accurately stated a car incident occurred on Svetlaya Street in Odessa involving lawyer and activist Mikhail Kuzakon, and journalist Gregory Kozma.  A Gaz truck rammed the white Toyota they were travelling in head on.

The (as yet unidentified) driver of the truck then fled the scene upon a motorbike waiting at the scene.  The method of the truck drivers egress from the scene clearly indicates that no accident occurred – but rather a deliberate incident.

Some older readers may be reminded of the similar circumstances surrounding the 1999 murder of Vyacheslav Chernovol.

Indeed perhaps it is the intent to draw such a parallel.

However, while the modus operandi may be similar, the outcome is fortunately very different.  Both Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma survived uninjured – and if their murder was not the intended outcome, the potential for serious injury was clearly present.

Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma feature for the prosecution in several NABU cases against Odessa City Hall.

Ergo if causing serious injury was the intention or an acceptable outcome, then either way the mens rea is very likely to be that of witness intimidation.

Initially the police classified the incident as an assassination attempt under Article 115 of the Criminal Code of Ukraine, however prosecutors have changed it to an attempt to kill (or infringe upon the life of) a journalist due to Mr Kozma being thus employed.

Why both Articles are not being employed in this case remains unclear as Mr Kuzakon is not a journalist.

Nor is it clear why “Witness Intimidation” is also not upon the list of suspected crimes committed/under investigation, for that will have been the minimum outcome expected by those that were involved in this crime – notwithstanding that witness intimidation is probably the easiest to prove.

Following the incident the blog decided to allow the dust to settle before writing a few lines with a view not only to follow the immediate events and the leaking of investigative leads, but also what if anything the authorities decided to do in the aftermath regarding the well-being of those involved in the prosecution case against Odessa City Hall.

Of course any witness to any crime is potentially a target for witness intimidation and/or bribery, however those involved in high profile prosecutions in a nation like Ukraine where national and regional elites still consider themselves above the law, are perhaps to be considered at far higher risk.  In this particular case few readers will be surprised if those responsible for this incident are found to be within, or closely associated to those within Odessa City Hall.

The point to be made here is that of witness protection and witness protection programmes (for those that would accept them) in Ukraine if witnesses are to continue to act as such for prosecuting authorities in high profile/high resonance cases.  Let us be blunt, since 1991, the list of dead and/or seriously injured, and/or intimidated witnesses against the elites is far, far longer than the list of the elites ever convicted.  Metaphorically, the former list would be as long as a toilet roll, whilst the latter could fit on the back of a (very small) postage stamp.

Questions therefore arise over who is responsible for witness protection – a costly endeavor  for anything(beyond simply fitting police monitored panic alarms in homes and hoping that should the alarm go off the police arrive to find live bodies) – and from whose budget are those costs covered?

Without doubt these men will not be the only two (in this case NABU) witnesses to have been intimidated and/or severely injured who are expected to give evidence.

Should each agency/institution protect their own witnesses at their own costs and staffing, or should something more central and dedicated be created solely for the purpose of witness protection?  Would any agency have sufficient trust in another dedicated to such a task if it were created?

How sensible/reasonable would the Ukrainian media be with regard leaving witnesses alone under such protection or any subsequent programme?

As yet it is unclear just how NABU will handle the circumstances surrounding Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma, but there seems to be a reasonable degree of certainty that somebody within or closely associated with Odessa City Hall will have acted in a role that is more than merely preparatory in this incident.

With somebody having taken such a step, and with it being unlikely Messrs Kuzakon and Kozma will stop cooperation with the prosecution, the risk of further incidents surrounding these two men remain.  It will do NABU (nor any Ukrainian law enforcement cause) no good to see their witnesses successfully whacked – partic.ularly after a failed attempt (discounting the issue of intimidation).

T’will be interesting to see how this (and other similar cases with similar witness issues) will be resolved.