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The rescuer of Faina in the grip of the Spanish Justice system. Revenge of the Somali pirates or an anti-Ukrainian provocation?

On August 24, 2019 the government of Ukraine solemnly celebrated the Independence Day. For Volodymyr Zelensky, who was elected President of Ukraine six months before, it was the first holiday of such scale. Perhaps due to this, his speech on the Kiev Maidan seemed unusually emotional. "It's been 28 years. 28 whole years. Difficult, turbulent, thorny, but our shared years. And all these years we stood together. The entire country," he stressed. The head of state listed various symbolic events that united our compatriots throughout the entire period of its existence - "Kravchuchkas", coupons, privatization vouchers, impressive achievements in sports and at Eurovision, Leonid Kadeniuk’s flight into space, defending the democratic choice of the nation in the Orange Revolution of 2004. Along with those events President Zelensky mentioned an episode unforgettable for many - the fight for the lives of Ukrainian citizens, captured by the XXI century pirates: "The whole country prayed for the sailors aboard Faina in captivity of Somali pirates". In doing so the President showed that he retained the feeling of joy he experienced along with millions of Ukrainians after the successful liberation of the Faina crew.

Taking a closer look at Faina, the ship was heading from Mykolaiv, Ukraine to Mombasa, Kenya when it was hijacked by Somali pirates on September 25, 2008. Its cargo holds were loaded with military equipment purchased by the Ministry of Defence of Kenya under a fully legitimate contract with the government of Ukraine. The crew, mostly formed of Ukrainian nationals, had to endure over 4 months of torture from the armed corsairs of Africa, high on khat (an African native narcotic plant) and hungry for multi-million dollar ransom payouts.
The rescuer of Faina in the grip of the Spanish Justice system. Revenge of the Somali pirates or an anti-Ukrainian provocation?

Faina was freed on 4 February 2009, as a result of a complex, multipronged intelligence operation by partially fulfilling the pirates' demands, although their initial ask reached an exorbitant USD 30 million. The negotiation process with the leaders of the pirate group was organized by the Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine (SZR) and the Main Directorate of Intelligence of the Ministry of Defence of Ukraine (HUR MO) in cooperation with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), together with foreign partners in NATO (USA, Great Britain, Germany) and the national intelligence services of Kenya. Throughout this period Faina was alternately guarded by the guided missile cruiser USS Vella Gulf (CG-72), destroyer USS Howard (DDG-83), as well as the USNS Catawba (T-ATF-168) tugboat of the US Navy.
The rescuer of Faina in the grip of the Spanish Justice system. Revenge of the Somali pirates or an anti-Ukrainian provocation?

On February 12, 2009, escorted by the destroyer Howard, Faina arrived in the Kenyan port of Mombasa. With the cargo ramp set down, the transfer of the military equipment to the Kenyan defence ministry began immediately, signalling the final completion of the contract. It was there that the false allegations against Ukraine that the cargo was actually intended not for Kenya but for rebellious South Sudan burst like a bubble in front of hundreds of television camera lenses and microphones of the world's leading news agencies. According to the wrongful claims, the Ukrainian government had allegedly violated international sanctions prohibiting arms supplies to that country.
The rescuer of Faina in the grip of the Spanish Justice system. Revenge of the Somali pirates or an anti-Ukrainian provocation?

The efforts of the officers of the intelligence community of Ukraine, who participated in the liberation of Faina were fully appreciated and rewarded by the government not only by the insignia of distinction by the President, the Verkhovna Rada, the Cabinet of Ministers, the National Security and Defence Council of Ukraine (NSDC) and departmental awards. Completely unexpectedly six intelligence officers (three from SZR and three from HUR MO) were awarded special Pride of the Country 2008 diplomas "for courage and bravery, true patriotism and a sincere desire to save their compatriots during the operation to liberate the crew”. But most importantly, the officers will always remember the words of gratitude and tears of joy of the crew’s relatives, exhausted by the long wait, who together with the then President of Ukraine Viktor Yushchenko met the crew of Faina at Boryspil airport.
The rescuer of Faina in the grip of the Spanish Justice system. Revenge of the Somali pirates or an anti-Ukrainian provocation?

Summing up the results of the operation, the leadership of the interdepartmental coordination headquarters on the liberation of Faina tried not to leave out others who participated – the experienced captains of the Black Sea Shipping Company, experts of the Information Center on Maritime Piracy in Kuala Lumpur (Malaysia), International Maritime Organization (UK headquarters), specialists in maritime law and shipping organization, professional technicians, communication experts, experts of Somali, Swahili language, etc.

A special place among them was taken up by an experienced manager in the organization of maritime shipping, a graduate of the operational faculty of the Odessa National Maritime University Viktor Murenko.
The rescuer of Faina in the grip of the Spanish Justice system. Revenge of the Somali pirates or an anti-Ukrainian provocation?

For his active participation in the liberation of Faina he was awarded simultaneously by two departments. The Foreign Intelligence Service of Ukraine presented him with a badge of honour "For Merits", and the Security Service of Ukraine – with a medal "For Courage and Bravery”. This goes to show how highly the leaders of the Ukrainian special services appreciated Murenko’s personal contribution to the operation, only confirming his reputation as a recognized specialist in maintenance, engine repair, ship hulls, and crew recruitment. His knowledge and experience were particularly useful in the planning of the operation to free Faina because several months before the seizure, the ship was being repaired in dry dock under Murenko’s supervision, which allowed for a thorough understanding of the peculiarities of the ship's design.

When necessary and only under instructions and control of the operation intelligence staff, Murenko communicated with the leaders of the pirate group by phone. He coordinated the deliveries of food, drinking water and fuel necessary to maintain the ship's life support systems. It seemed quite natural since "Tomex Team Odessa", which Murenko worked with, had recruited the ship's crew in 2008.

It would seem the operation to free Faina has long been a matter of history. Many of the intelligence officers involved have since retired. Murenko had moved to Spain for permanent residence, where he lives in Calpe, Alicante together with his wife and two young children.

However, it turned out that all these years Murenko had certain compatriots lurking around, proactively falsifying materials against him, possibly on someone else's orders. When in the opinion of such "partners" they had enough information, they handed it over to the Spanish law enforcement authorities. The slanderer’s goal was simple and cynical: if not to destroy a successful competitor, then to disgrace Murenko's honour and business reputation by the hands of the Spanish legal system.

Oddly enough, their denunciation was taken seriously. It is likely that the Spanish law enforcement officers were intrigued by the possibility of a high-profile criminal trial against the "Ukrainian Mafia," exposing the involvement of Murenko, and Ukraine’s special services in the organised arms smuggling channels.

So, on November 10, 2020, Murenko entered perhaps the most difficult stage in his life. On that day, at 6:00 am local time Drugs and Organized Crime Unit (UDYCO) officers conducted a search of his home. Prior to this, Murenko’s and his wife’s phone had been recorded and monitored for a very long time and the law enforcement officers were fully aware of Murenko’s situation at home, i.e., that there would be no armed resistance and that the house was a home to not only Murenko and his wife but also their two young sons. That didn’t stop the armed police officers in full combat gear from using excessive force and smashing doors and windows during their demonstrative assault on a residential home.

With Victor and his wife Lydia in handcuffs, the Spanish lawmen explained that they were accused of money laundering along with seven other suspects. The reason Murenko was included in the investigation was his alleged involvement in illegal arms deals. Contrary to common sense and widespread information freely available in the media, it was suggested that the tanks, Grad rocket launchers, their spare parts, firearms and other military equipment transported onboard of the ship Faina in 2008 had belonged to Murenko and not the governments of Ukraine or Kenya. According to the Spanish prosecutors, Murenko singlehandedly communicated with Somali pirate leaders the terms of the vessel's release, negotiated a ransom with them and paid the required sum of $1.7 million or $3.3 million (varying sources, actual amount has not been disclosed) out of his own pocket.

It would be sensible for the people behind this theatre to make enquiries with the intelligence services of Ukraine instead of painting Murenko as a Ukrainian version of Ilich Ramirez Sanchez (also known as “Carlos the Jackal"), Osama bin Laden or James Bond. I am convinced it would have been made clear that Murenko was not employed by the Ukrainian special services and has never provided them with confidential services. He had no connection to the department which owned the cargo of Faina. Because the Ukrainian intelligence authorities kept the contents of the negotiations confidential and did not authorize Murenko to participate, he could not discuss with the pirates the terms of the ship's release. No ransom money ever came from Murenko. Until the press release, he did not even know the agreed ransom, the geographical area, the time and day of when the ransom payment would be taking place. As for the sources of funds and the actual amount of the ransom payment, this information remains unknown to the public.

But those behind the investigation into Murenko were not interested in what really happened. It was important for them to create an informational lead to revisit the accusations that Ukraine sold military equipment to South Sudan in breach of international sanctions. This coincided surprisingly with the interest of competitors keen on ousting Ukrainian arms exporters from world markets dominated by Russia.

That same day Murenko was arrested. With no conviction, even at the stage of the preliminary investigation he was assigned a status of an "especially dangerous" detainee (level FIES 2). Of the thirteen months that Murenko was detained in Spanish prisons, he spent nine in the module for criminals sentenced to long-term imprisonment at the special prison of Albocasser. International terrorists, arms dealers, traffickers, serial killers, sex offenders and other categories of especially dangerous criminals serve their sentences there.

Fortunately, Murenko’s defense was taken on by Alfonso Freire Picos, a decent man and a highly qualified specialist. After reviewing the case, he immediately suggested it had no judicial prospects. Despite the severity of the charges, he obtained a change of preventive measures against his client. At the end of December 2021, the "high risk" inmate, who had not been questioned a single time during his illegal incarceration, was released from custody on bail with a condition of not leaving the country.

Ukrainian SZR veterans did not forget about Murenko either. Experienced professionals quickly realized that the true purpose of the organized provocation was to document Murenko's connection with representatives of the Ukrainian authorities in order to falsify accusations of Ukraine of illegal arms trade. After all, in addition to the Faina saga, Murenko was also hastily implicated in the 2017 incidents involving alleged violations of international arms export regulations by the container ship Mekong Spirit (sailing under the flag of Malta) and the ship Nour M (sailing under the flag of Sierra Leone). In falsifying unfounded accusations, their authors did not even bother to check the status of the investigation of these ships. Otherwise, they would have learned that in September 2020, almost two months prior to Murenko's arrest in Spain, the court of Rhodes in Greece found no crime in the actions of the captain and crew of the Mekong Spirit and acquitted them completely. Moreover, the court allowed the ship to be sold on to a new owner. What concerns Nour M, which was detained by Greek border guards, neither Murenko nor his acquaintances had anything to do with the operation of the ship.

Feeling a sense of moral obligation to Murenko, having worked side-by-side on the Faina rescue operation, the Ukrainian intelligence officers prepared and submitted to the Spanish court an affidavit in which they disclosed Murenko's true role in the operation and denied the accusations against him. This document was attached to the materials of the criminal case as evidence. Ukrainian SZR veterans also expressed their willingness to testify directly in the Spanish court.
Murenko’s current status of a person with leave to remain, who is on bail and unable to travel because of an unfinished criminal investigation, does not allow him to work in his line of expertise and provide for his family, as his personal bank accounts have been arrested. The court also did not grant the petition to release him to Ukraine under personal obligation to participate in the defence of his native Odessa from the Russian invasion.

But freedom, albeit limited, is better than captivity. Murenko continues to fight. At the request of his lawyers, a criminal case was opened against the Spanish law enforcement officers who, in order to falsify evidence, without grounds and most importantly without result, for prolonged periods of time monitored and recorded Murenko’s personal communication channels, carried out visual surveillance, and conducted other covert operational search activities without proper judicial authorization.

However, the forces are clearly unbalanced. In an attempt to convince Spanish society and Ministers of Justice of the objectivity of the charges against Murenko, a full-on informational campaign was launched in the local media. Its goal is clear - to paint Murenko as an international terrorist and a major arms dealer, referred to in the press as either a shipowner, a smuggler, or a member of the "Russian Mafia". The number of such publications increased especially in the run-up to the next court hearing, scheduled for November 16, 2022. Even journalists from ABC, the national daily newspaper and one of the top three most widely read in Spain, are involved in the coverage of this high-profile trial. Having access to the materials of the trial, they comment on nearly all events related to it in one way or another.
Still, we want to believe that the Spanish Justice system will not fall for the tricks of the perpetrators and will prove its impartiality.

Borys Dniprov
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After reading your article I was chocked .
We were the agents of Lumar / Eurogulf in Antwerp responsible for the unloading & loading
the owners were at that time A.Dyrchenko assisted by S. Gurzhiy both of them in charge for all commercial matters related to the various ships we handled. Since we were loading 100 % project & breakbulk cargo I came myself to the terminal following up the operational procedures. There I met frequently Viktor Murenko who was in charge for the technical management & assisted us in a very professional way in order we could load our difficult cargo such as liebherr cranes, caterpillar etc etc
During my long career I hardly met such a professional person available 24/7 as Mr. Murenko.
He also took care that in cooperation with his Management invoices were always paid in Time.
Working with him was simply a pleasure and I'am 100 % convinced that Viktor is accused wrongly and somewhere somehow people took advantages of his goodwill.
please find the real people who are playing this dirty game with him.
believe me I was not responding if I was not convinced he is innocent . Sincerely hope court will see
that Victor is innocent & that this nightmare for himself & his lovable family is soon over
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