El caso Sivakov
They came twice under orders from Sivakov, then Minister of Interior in Belarus, to pick up the pistol we used in executions. I didn’t know why they wanted it. The first time it was a colonel who came to get it with a written order, and the second it was a personal assistant of the minister, who came with verbal instructions. I knew very well what the protocol was and how to look after guns, so on both occasions I only handed the pistol over after it had been properly signed for in the register. I made sure there was a written record. The first time they came for the pistol was the 30th of April 1999 and it was returned on the 15th of May. The second time, they picked it up on the 16th of September.
A copy of the newspaper Pravda came into my hands in December, which carried an article about four disappearances in Belarus. One of the men involved turned out to be still alive. He was a former banker, who had managed to escape to London. The cutline beneath a photograph of Zakharenko, the former Interior Minister, said he had been missing since the 7th of May. There were also photos of Gonchar and Kasovsky, the first a deputy and the second a personal friend of his. They had both gone missing on the 16th of September. That called to my mind the date when they had come for the gun. The dates of the disappearances matched the days when the pistol had been in the hands of the minister, Sivakov. They had picked it upon on the morning of the 16th of September, and the same night Gonchar and his friend had gone missing. They left the sauna where they had been together, but they never came home.
Something unusual had happened before the Ministry requested the pistol. A colonel, Dima Pavlichenko, appeared with an order from the minister to allow him to witness an execution. He was a commandant in SOBRA, an elite unit. It was not in the least necessary that he should attend, but the minister insisted, so I invited him although I couldn’t understand this morbid interest. I knew that minister Sivakov and Pavlichenko were friends. On one occasion when Pavlichenko was expelled from the army, Sivakov had him readmitted and given a new posting.
I remembered him when I read in the newspaper that Zakharenko had been followed by a car, a red BMW, just hours before he disappeared. That was rare in those times. There weren’t many BMWs in Belarus, and still less red ones. It was a car that stood out. I knew perfectly well who had a car like that –Dima Pavlichenko. It had been given to him by Sivakov.
They came twice under orders from Sivakov, then Minister of Interior in Belarus, to pick up the pistol we used in executions. I didn’t know why they wanted it.
Putting this facts together, I came to the conclusion that Pavlichenko was involved in the kidnapping. Even so, he couldn’t have decided something like that on his own. He took orders from only two people, the minister Sivakov and the secretary general of the Security Council, Shayman. Considering how important they were, there was very little I could do. By that time, Sivakov had retired anyway. He was replaced by General Udovikov, who was appointed acting minister. Like a dutiful official, I went to Udovikov to explain to him what had happened. “I suspect that Zakharenko, Gonchar and Krassovsky were assassinated using the firing squad’s pistol,” I told him, recounting the whole chain of events that had led me to that conclusion. Udovikov was frightened and ordered me not to mention the matter again. “I know everything, but there is nothing I can do. What happened came from the top,” he said to me, pointing at the ceiling. Then he ordered me to get rid of the pistol, but I didn’t.
I began to suspect Shayman. He was secretary of the Belarusian Security Council, the second highest office of State. All of the power structures in the country obeyed him. I didn’t know what to do by this stage. The acting minister had refused to talk about the matter, and there was nobody else I could approach. It was a dead end. If I had gone to the public prosecutor or something like that, I would have disappeared too. One day the President’s head of security, Vladimir Naumov turned up out of the blue to see me. We were old friends, so I told him everything. I said I suspected that Sivakov, Shayman and Pavlichenko had been behind Zakharenko’s murder. “You are one of the few people who are really close to the President, you talk to him every day. Tell him that they’re doing terrible things behind his back. People have been killed. I can tell you they were murdered. They didn’t disappear. Pavlichenko killed them. And the murders were ordered by Sivakov or Shayman. I can’t believe it was Sivakov; he’s too weak. It must have been Shayman. Tell the President”. I also told him that I suspected they had been murdered with my pistol. “Imagine if they find a body and the bullet. The bullet would tell them what gun was used and who it belonged to. I would be arrested straight away, and nobody would find out what really happened.” I kept the gun, and that meant in a week or so I might find myself shut up in the basement of death row, and they would lose no time shooting me. They would have blamed me for all of the crimes. That could easily have happened. Or I might simply have disappeared, and that would have made me the fifth person to be kidnapped and murdered. Naumov heard me out and promised he would help.
Not long after he was appointed Interior Minister. He rang me himself and said, “That’s it. The wheels are in motion. Pavlichenko was arrested today.” It was true. Naumov himself had prepared the operation with the head of the KGB and the chief prosecutor. Pavlichenko was imprisoned in the KGB Sizo
on the 22nd of November 2000. But they made the mistake of not arresting Shayman too. So Shayman went to Lukashenko and somehow managed to convince him that it was all a plot against him and he managed to turn the tables. Pavlichenko was set free within twenty-four hours on the direct orders of the President. That was illegal, of course. There was no process or even any documents. They just opened the door and let him go. Anybody who had been involved in his arrest was fired –the head of the KGB, the chief prosecutor… Only Naumov was left in his post.
I also told him that I suspected they had been murdered with my pistol. “Imagine if they find a body and the bullet. The bullet would tell them what gun was used and who it belonged to. I would be arrested straight away, and nobody would find out what really happened.”
Shayman was made chief prosecutor, so all of the documents passed into his hands. Including the papers I had filed! I spent a year expecting them to come for me day or night. I thought about when and where they would kill me. I had to be careful about everything I did. My life was in danger and I always went about armed. My driver always had a pistol too. Sometimes I knew when they were following me, sometimes I didn’t. I made sure nobody could get close to me. I would have shot anyone who tried to get within three metres. Naumov was still minister and he helped me as best he could, even if only to offer moral support. He understood I had a right to defend myself. So the Ministry of Interior anyway had no part in following me. The KGB were involved though. They set up a conspiracy to plant heroin in my office and in my car. Luckily they weren’t willing to do it themselves, so they tried to get a prisoner to help them. They wanted to accuse me of drug trafficking, but the prisoner turned out to be a good guy, and he told me everything. He got nine years for that. They had promised him he would be declared mentally imbalanced and released if he did what they wanted. All he had to do was say he had received drugs from me. They chose him because he actually had reasons to hate me. He was a recidivist criminal, and years ago we had clashed over his disorderly conduct. But he refused to do what they told him. “I may be a jailbird,” he said, “but I’m not a snitch.” I have a lot of respect for him. You could say that a common criminal threw a spanner in the works of the all-powerful KGB. I’ve been fortunate to know a lot of good men.
When the 2001 election campaign began, some papers referring to the Pavlichenko case were stolen and fell into the hands of the opposition. They included the dossier of my interrogation and my report. These were compromising documents which showed just how deeply involved Shayman, Sivakov and Pavlichenko had been in the kidnapping and assassination of the missing politicians. They also clearly stated that they had been murdered with my pistol. At that time there were still opposition newspapers, and they published everything.
I realized I had only two options: I could do what they wanted and claim it was all a farce and that I hadn’t written or done anything, or I could run. I had only minutes to think it over, but I decided I wouldn’t deny anything. It seemed humiliating to me, and it would have meant acting against my conscience. I couldn’t do it. How could I look at myself in the mirror afterwards?
Then it became public knowledge that I was the head of the execution squad, and that was dangerous as well as unpleasant. Nobody knew, not even my wife and children, not even my closest colleagues. I was just the director of a penitentiary as far as anybody had ever known. But they never new it was me who directed the executions. I could have gone to live in some other town in Belarus where few people knew me, and that would have been the end of that. But in the end I decided to run. By this time they were watching me and following me, but I managed to give them the slip and escape to Moscow, and from Moscow to Berlin where I have stayed. Let’s say I was lucky. I used my experience to shake off the Belarusian secret service people who were on my tail, and I got out alive.
I am a political refugee here. My family and I have the right to live in Germany all our lives. I’m under the protection of the German government. It would be unthinkable for anybody to take a shot at me, so I don’t have to go about armed, although it is possible I might be poisoned, I suppose. Every year, I have worked to gather data and papers to prove my case. My only mission is to see those criminals behind bars. I don’t want anything in exchange. I don’t want power. I just want to get on with my life and write stories or something. Maybe I could become a fisherman.