The comments by Yury Havarsky, made in an interview with Deutsche Welle published on December 16, added fuel to long-standing accusations that security forces overseen by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka were involved in the disappearance of opposition leader Viktar Hanchar and businessman Anatol Krasouski, and two other men in 1999 and 2000.
Havarsky told the publication that in the late 1990s he served in a division of the Belarusian Interior Ministry called the Special Rapid Response Unit, or SOPR.
He said he participated in the 1999 kidnapping of former Interior Minister Yury Zakharanka in the Belarusian capital, Minsk. Zakharanka was driven to a military base outside the city and then shot, Havarsky said, by his superior officer.
Havarsky said he was also involved in the 1999 abduction of Hanchar, the former head of the country’s Central Election Commission who later joined the opposition, and Krasouski, a businessman who supported the country’s opposition. The two men disappeared after visiting a sauna in Minsk.
Both, he said, were taken to a military base, executed, and their bodies were buried in a forest in already-dug graves.
Havarsky specifically blamed Dzmitry Pavlichenko, a lieutenant colonel who was the head of the SOBR unit, both for having him recruited into the unit and for executing Zakharanka.
Relatives of the men have publicly said they believe they were abducted for political reasons, and have accused government officials of complicity.
Deutsche Welle said that Havarsky was now living in an unnamed “German-speaking” country in Europe, and he was seeking political asylum.
In comments to the Belarusian news portal Tut.by, Pavlichenko called Havarsky’s comments nonsense, and he accused Havarsky of having been kicked out of SOBR for criminal activity.
A report by a top official with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe concluded in 2004 that senior Belarusian officials “may themselves be involved” in the disappearances of the men.