Harvard Law School Professor Alan M. Dershowitz has taken on a high profile international case defending former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma against accusations of attempted murder.
Kuchma, 72, was accused last month of ordering the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze, who was kidnapped in 2000 and found headless soon after outside Kiev.
Kuchma has denied any connection with the murder.
The primary evidence against Kuchma is a tape recording in which opponents argue Kuchma can be heard complaining about Gongadze and allegedly urges someone to take care of the problem.
Kuchma was also blamed in 2000, but the prosecutors dropped the case after discovering the tape may have been doctored.
The case resurfaced recently, with Dershowitz choosing to lead the defense.
“There are two terrible crimes here,” Dershowitz said. “One is the murder of a journalist ... the second is trying to frame somebody who isn’t guilty for having committed this terrible crime.”
Dershowitz has a history with such high-profile cases, having defended O.J. Simpson and the socialite Claus von Bulow among others.
He said that he is interested in what he described as the intriguing combination of modern science and politics in the Kuchma case.
Dershowitz and his group of Ukrainian attorneys are working with leading scientists to find places in the tape where tampering seems to have occurred, he said.
Dershowitz said he is familiar with instances of tape tampering.
While defending von Bulow against attempted murder charges, Dershowitz experienced tape tampering first-hand when someone recorded him and rearranged the tape to change the meaning of his words.
The doctoring of that tape was easy to prove, Dershowitz said, since the cut marks on the analog recording were visible.
In the Kuchma case, the defense must locate tampering marks on a digital recording.
Dershowitz, who returned from Kiev on Tuesday, said that the case offers the unique challenge of learning Ukrainian law and of working in a foreign environment with local law students.
But Dershowitz said he sees great significance in the case and its relation to the “rule of law and the evolution of democracy in Ukraine.”
He said he believed it to be “the most important case in modern Ukrainian history.”
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