A district court in Kyiv has dismissed charges against former President Leonid Kuchma alleging his involvement in the 2000 killing of investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze.
Prosecutors alleged that Kuchma issued orders to subordinates that eventually led to the journalist being killed.
The Pechersky District Court ruled that the main evidence against Kuchma -- surreptitious tape recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko -- had been obtained by illegal means and therefore could not serve as the basis for a criminal complaint.
The district court's decision, which came in response to an objection by defense lawyers, follows an October 20 ruling by the Constitutional Court ruling on the inadmissibility of such evidence.
The decision can be appealed within the next seven days.
Defense lawyer Viktor Petrunenko told journalists outside the court that the evidence against Kuchma was insufficient for prosecution.
"We are satisfied with the decision because it is based on the law," Petrunenko said. "We have always been convinced that Leonid Kuchma was not involved in the tragic events connected with Heorhiy Gongadze, so we knew that there were no grounds for the deputy prosecutor-general to begin criminal proceedings."
Former President Leonid Kuchma
Valentyna Telychenko, a lawyer representing Gongadze's widow, Myroslava, expressed her disappointment with the court proceedings.
"The court's ruling is against the law, and as a representative of Myroslava Gongadze, I will have to appeal it in court," Telychenko said. "The judge who handed down the ruling made a number of mistakes."
Kuchma served as president of Ukraine from 1994 until 2005.
Gongadze disappeared on September 16, 2000, and a headless body that is believed to be his was found in a forest near Kyiv in November 2000.
The same month, Melnychenko released audio recordings that he claims were made in Kuchma's office. The tapes purportedly contain conversations between Kuchma and senior officials regarding Gongadze, as well as other journalists and parliamentary deputies.
In the Melnychenko tapes, Gongadze's name is mentioned a number of times by a voice purported to be Kuchma's. The president appears to be ordering Gongadze's killing, saying: "Drive him out! Throw him out! Give him to the Chechens!"
Kuchma has admitted that his voice is on the tapes, but claims they were doctored. He has denied
any involvement in the case.
In charges filed in March, prosecutors accused Kuchma of "exceeding his authority" and "abuse of office" and declared the Melnychenko tapes material evidence in the case.
In September, former Interior Ministry officer Oleksiy Pukach testified in his own trial on charges of murdering Gongadze
that Kuchma, his former chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn (currently speaker of parliament), and former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko ordered Gongadze's killing.
Kravchenko was found dead at his summer house in March 2005. Officially, his death was ruled a suicide, but many observers doubt that explanation.
Written by Robert Coalson on the basis of reporting from Kyiv by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and agency reports