Harvard Law School professor to defend Ukraine ex-president

Alan Dershowitz was drawn to the case because of a recording. Alan Dershowitz was drawn to the case because of a recording.
By Anna Melnichuk
Associated Press / April 12, 2011

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KIEV — Alan Dershowitz, who has helped win acquittals for some of the most famous criminal suspects in the United States, intends to use his skills to defend the former Ukrainian president accused in the killing of an investigative journalist more than 10 years ago.

Dershowitz, a professor at Harvard Law School, said yesterday that he was drawn to the case because of the recording that prosecutors say incriminates Leonid Kuchma, former president. A voice on the tape that sounds like Kuchma’s is heard complaining about journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and suggesting that someone deal with the problem.

Gongadze was kidnapped in September 2000, and his headless body was later discovered outside Kiev. Kuchma has denied any involvement.

“A main point is that he is a victim of a manufactured tape, that nobody can be confident that the recording is authentic,’’ Dershowitz said. “And there is nothing worse than being a victim of false evidence.’’

Dershowitz, 72, said he was subject to the use of a false recording while working on the celebrated case of Claus von Bulow, who was accused of trying to kill his heiress wife in 1980.

“Someone tape-recorded me, and he had a tape recorder in his sock, and he took the scissors and cut the tape and made me sound like I said what I did not say,’’ the lawyer said. “I became very interested and sympathetic to the fight of somebody who was exposed to a false tape.’’

Von Bulow was found guilty in his first trial, but after hiring Dershowitz to handle his appeal he had the conviction overturned and was acquitted in a second trial.

Dershowitz wrote a book about the case, “Reversal of Fortune: Inside the von Bulow Case,’’ which was made into a movie in 1990.

He also was a member of the defense team that won a controversial acquittal for O.J. Simpson, the football star accused of killing his former wife and her friend in 1994.

“For many, many years I’ve been interested in the relations between law and science, and in the US most of my cases have to do with validating scientific information,’’ Dershowitz said. “When I heard about this case and the allegation regarding the tape, I became very interested.’’

As part of Kuchma’s defense team, Dershowitz said, his job is to “look hard at the science, to conduct our own investigations using world-renowned experts.’’

He questioned the decision by Ukraine’s prosecutor general’s office to reverse its longstanding position and accept the audio recording as evidence. It was initially provided by a former presidential security guard, who said he had taped the conversation in Kuchma’s office.

The recording is the only known evidence implicating Kuchma. The prosecutor general’s office refused to comment yesterday on the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

Dershowitz said it is not difficult to manipulate a digital recording, as “parts can be deleted, copied, pasted, and altered with great ease.’’

He called for the case to be closed “to not further reinforce the impression that the actions of the legal system may be politically motivated.’’

The criminal proceedings against Kuchma, 72, were initiated unexpectedly in March.