Prosecutor Builds Case Against Coup Plotters


WITH the investigation of the August coup still under way, it is too early to say when those accused in the conspiracy will go on trial, state prosecutors say.

More than 125 volumes and 53 hours of videotaped evidence have been compiled so far, Russian Prosecutor-General Valentin Stepankov said in an interview published in the Nezavisimaya Gazeta. When the investigation is completed, Mr. Stepankov added, the evidence must be reviewed by all the defendants and their lawyers before the case can go to trial. Also, it will take several months for judges to familiarize themselves with the evidence.

As a result, a verdict is unlikely to come before the summer of 1993, Stepankov told the German magazine Stern.

The accused, including the seven living members of the so-called State of Emergency Committee, have had the charges against them reduced from treason to conspiracy to seize power. They could face eight to 15 years in prison, Stepankov said.

Many of the coup plotters - including former Soviet Vice President Gennady Yanayev and former KGB chairman Vladimir Kryuchkov - have maintained their innocence, saying former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev knew of their plans.

Mr. Gorbachev has denied the allegation, and Stepankov has said prosecutors have not turned up any evidence that would implicate the former leader.

The August putsch was an attempt by the conspirators to preserve their personal power, the prosecutor said. The coup began Aug. 19, 1991 - the day before the scheduled signing of a new union treaty that would have weakened the powers of central authorities. In addition, Stepankov said evidence shows a Cabinet reshuffle was to occur after the union treaty signing. Several key members of the Emergency Committee were to be replaced, including Mr. Kryuchkov, former Prime Minister Valentin Pavlov, and former Defense Minister Dmitry Yazov.

Stepankov insists a repeat of the August 1991 coup is impossible. "Although the case against the Emergency Committee hasn't been completed, a new, similar situation doesn't threaten Russia in the future," he said.

But others warn the current Russian government of President Boris Yeltsin is vulnerable to a "constitutional coup."

The recently created presidential Security Council could be used as a vehicle to overthrow the new government, said Mr. Yeltsin's consultant, Sergei Shakhrai, in the daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

As economic conditions worsen "only a slight change in the balance of forces within the shadow Cabinet [the Security Council]," could create conditions for a successful coup, Mr. Shakhrai added. "And that is already happening."

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