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Ukraine: Parliament Commission Says Kuchma Behind Gongadze Abduction

A monument to Heorhiy Gongadze A Ukrainian parliamentary commission investigating the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze dropped a bombshell yesterday, when it officially concluded that former President Leonid Kuchma organized the reporter’s abduction. The commission also accused current parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn -- Kuchma’s former chief of staff -- of instigating the kidnapping.

Prague, 21 September 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The British are generally thought to be the masters of the “stiff upper lip” -- maintaining glacial composure and showing little reaction, no matter how shocking the news. But Ukraine’s political establishment could teach them a lesson or two.

The reaction to the ad hoc parliamentary commission’s shocking conclusions, presented by lawmaker Hrihoriy Omelchenko, has been deafening silence.

President Viktor Yushchenko, who came into office at the start of the year vowing to resolve the Gongadze case -- no matter what the political consequences -- has not commented. Outgoing Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko, asked today for her reaction, said she had other things to worry about. Neither the Interior Ministry nor any other law-enforcement agency has said a word.
"There is a high probability that this case will be used to secretly blackmail certain politicians -- foremost among them of course, Volodymyr Lytvyn, who is on the Melnychenko tapes."

When the Yushchenko administration came into office nine months ago, the situation seemed very different. Gongadze’s abduction and his murder symbolized the corrupt past that Ukraine’s new leaders promised to put behind them. Resolving the case, and bringing to justice the planners and perpetrators, appeared to be of key importance.

Gongadze, founder of the "Ukrayinska pravda" website, was well known for his articles about alleged high-level corruption. He was abducted in Kyiv, in September 2000. His decapitated body was later found in a forest outside the capital.

Weeks later, recordings said to be made by one of Kuchma's bodyguards were released in public and played in parliament. The so-called "Melnychenko tapes" shocked many who heard them. On the recordings, a voice resembling Kuchma’s tells another man, who sounds like former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, to have Gongadze “removed and thrown to the Chechens.”

The fact that a parliamentary commission has now lent credence to the tapes and confirmed what many ordinary Ukrainians have long believed -- that Kuchma was behind the murder -- should be huge news.

The fact that it passed almost unnoticed says much about the disappointed hopes of Ukraine’s Orange Revolution, according to Viktoria Syumar of the Kyiv-based Institute of Mass Information. She says it is particularly sad that even Gongadze’s fellow journalists took little notice.

"The commission's final report was presented to a half-empty hall and it didn't get much notice from journalists, although I remind you that five years ago, in September 2000, it was the journalists themselves who were the ones who pushed for the creation of this very commission," Syumar said.

Syumar says that unfortunately, the silence of Ukraine’s new political establishment and Kuchma’s recent behavior would seem to confirm suspicions that the two sides may have struck a secret peace deal over the case.

"It appears [Kuchma] is very relaxed since he has already begun to take an active part in political events, to comment on various issues, to label current politicians. It seems he feels well and very sure of himself. One can explain this easily, since in the past nine months, after so many promises, no steps have been undertaken [against him,]" Syumar said.

Another possibility, she believes, is that Yushchenko and his allies may be pursuing a more Machiavellian strategy -- at the expense of the justice they promised Ukraine’s people.

"There is a high probability that this case will be used to secretly blackmail certain politicians -- foremost among them of course, Volodymyr Lytvyn, who is on the Melnychenko tapes," Syumar said.

As further evidence of the authorities’ disinterest in getting to the bottom of the case, Syumar notes that Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General Svyatoslav Piskun, during his recent trip to the United States, declined to meet with Mykola Melnychenko -- the author of the tapes that kicked off the whole case.

What happens now? Probably nothing, according to Syumar. The parliamentary commission has been disbanded and Ukraine’s law enforcement bodies have no obligation to follow up.

"The problem is that these conclusions have no judicial status. The fact is that a [parliamentary] investigating commission is a constitutional body, but nevertheless, in Ukraine, there is still no law on such commissions which would regulate their work with law enforcement agencies and which would result in their investigations having a practical impact," Syumar said.

The Interior Ministry recently pronounced the case “closed” with the arrest of several low-level officers it named as Gongadze’s killers. It appears that, for the time being, that is as far as the case will go.

(RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service contributed to this report.)

See also:

Gongadze's Wife: Ukrainian Officials Could Solve Murder

Suspect In Gongadze Murder Dies In Police Custody

Doubts Abound Over 'Resolution' Of Gongadze Murder

Ukraine: Gongadze Murder Solved, Says Minister

Ukraine: Gongadze Case Reflects Struggle For Nation's Future

Ukraine: Ex-Kuchma Bodyguard Says He Is Not Seeking Asylum -- Part 2: The Gongadze Case

Ukraine: Journalist's Case Highlights Lack Of Transparency

Ukraine: Police Say Journalist May Have Been Killed

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