Forensic audio experts have concluded that a 2012 audio recording revealing an alleged plot to kill critics of Belarusian strongman Alyaksandr Lukashenka is authentic.
The Crime Lab for Audio and Video Documents (KLAD), based in Russia's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, studied the tape at the request of Current Time, and concluded that the voices on the tape belong to three men, one of whom is the former chief of the Belarusian KGB, Vadzim Zaytsau. The men discuss ways to poison and kill with explosives critics of Lukashenka and his government living abroad.
"The liquidation...must look very natural so that nobody could f....ing question it. It must be just a pinpoint strike," Zaytsau says on the tape, which runs for more than one hour.
The leaked audio was published by the Brussels-based EUObserver newspaper on January 4, saying the conversations were recorded in 2012, when Zaytsau was the KGB chief.
The newspaper received the audio from a former Belarusian Interior Ministry official, Ihar Makar, who currently resides in an unspecified EU country.
KLAD experts compared the voice on the tape with five other recordings of Zaytsau that were freely available on the Internet. From audio, linguistic, and instrumental forensic analyses of the voice, they said they could conclude that the voice on the tape in question was his.
On January 19, the Belarusian Interior Ministry issued a statement calling Makar "a swindler," adding that the ministry has evidence proving Makar's "fraudulent objectives."
Daily demonstrations have rocked Belarus since officials announced that their tally of the country's August 9, 2020 presidential vote showed Lukashenka winning a landslide victory, handing him a sixth consecutive term.
Those results are seen by many in Belarus and abroad as being rigged in favor of Lukashenka, who has ruled the country with an iron fist since 1994. The European Union and the United States both refuse to recognize his reelection.
The men on the tape also discuss the murder of Belarusian-born Russian journalist Pavel Sheremet, who was killed in a car-bomb attack in Ukraine's capital, Kyiv, in 2016.
"How to provoke a natural explosion...it is necessary to work on Sheremet, who [became a pain in the ass].... We will place some kind of input or something so that this rat's f...ng...hands and legs could not be collected," Zaytsau says on the leaked tape.
Sheremet died after a bomb exploded in his car.
Andriy Antonenko is currently being held by Ukrainian authorities as a suspect in the killing, along with two others who are under house arrest. All three took part in military operations in different capacities in Ukraine's east, where government forces are fighting Russian-backed separatists.
In addition to Sheremet's killing, the men on the tape also discuss the murders of three other opponents of Lukashenka who resided in Germany. Those attacks were not carried out.
In the recording, Zaytsau also says Lukashenka has allocated $1.5 million for the operation, which he stressed must leave no trace of any possible KGB involvement.
After the audio was leaked, Ukraine's Interior Ministry said that the new information would help in the investigation to find those who ordered the high-profile killing.