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Ukraine: Gongadze Case Still Unsolved, Despite Pushing

It is over six years since Heorhiy Gongadze's disappearance (RFE/RL) The Gongadze murder case has been the most politicized crime in Ukraine's 15 years as an independent state. Now, six years after the disappearance of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, the case is still not fully solved -- to the frustration of many Ukrainians.

Gongadze's murder in September 2000 led to the bloodiest street riots Kyiv has seen since the 1917 October Revolution. Demonstrators demanding the resignation of then President Leonid Kuchma, who was suspected of having ordered the killing, were brutally beaten by special police detachments.

In November 2000, covert recordings surfaced, supposedly of Kuchma's office made by a member of his security detail, Mykola Melnychenko. The tapes contained a voice similar to Kuchma's giving orders to the head of the Interior Ministry, Yuriy Kravchenko, that Gongadze be "taken, beaten, and thrown to the Chechens."

New Impetus

Some politicians in Ukraine are now pushing for resolution of the case.

Addressing the Ukrainian Parliament on September 15, parliament speaker Oleksander Moroz launched an angry attack against unnamed "high government officials" for drawing out the murder investigation.

"The investigation of this case is being deliberately prolonged by members of the government," Moroz said. "This is the result of a politically motivated request."

Moroz, along with others, believes that President Viktor Yushchenko has instructed the prosecutor-general not to press charges against Kuchma for ordering the killing of Gongadze.

Ukrainian Prosecutor-General Oleksander Medvedko defended his office, telling parliament that, although the voice on the recordings appears to be Kuchma's, the fact that Melnychenko has not provided the prosecution with the original chips on which he recorded the conversations precludes his office from pressing charges against Kuchma.

Mykola Protasov and Valeriy Kostenko in court in December 2005

Melnychenko has said he is refusing to turn over the original chips because he fears Ukrainian law-enforcement organizations might be asked to shield Kuchma from prosecution and destroy the only credible evidence remaining of his possible guilt.

Another investigation, into the death of Kravchenko, was reopened in August by the Prosecutor-General's Office.

After the Orange coalition victory and the inauguration of Yushchenko as president in January 2005, a campaign to clean up the country began. Two months later, in March, Kravchenko allegedly committed suicide by shooting himself in the head twice.

He had been asked to appear at the prosecutor's office on the day of his death to answer questions about the Gongadze case. He left a note saying that he was the victim of "Kuchma's intrigues."

Some, however, have speculated that Kravchenko had been murdered in order to prevent him from naming those who gave the order to kill Gongadze.

Rumors Of Deal

The perceived footdragging on the investigation has reinvigorated the idea that Yushchenko made a secret deal with Kuchma in December 2004, which gave Kuchma immunity from prosecution in return for his pledge to support a third round of balloting during the hotly contested presidential election.

Kuchma allegedly agreed and Yushchenko won the election. Both Kuchma and Yushchenko deny that such an agreement exists.

Despite the sluggish investigation, the Prosecutor-General's Office has produced some notable results.

In August 2005, three high-ranking police officials -- Valeriy Kostenko, Mykola Protasov, and Oleksandr Popovych -- were arrested and put on trial for kidnapping and killing the journalist.

The officers admitted to the charges, but insisted they did so on the direct orders of Oleksa Pukach, an Interior Ministry general responsible for overseeing Gongadze's surveillance in the months prior to his kidnapping.

Pukach, however, had already fled to Israel where numerous attempts to extradite him failed. In 2005, a team of Ukrainian security service operatives were sent to Israel to kidnap Pukach. The attempt failed and they returned home empty handed. Pukach remains on Ukraine's most-wanted list.

The Melnychenko Tapes

The Melnychenko Tapes

The Melnychenko tapes, some of which were transcribed and published on the Internet, have never been officially recognized as genuine in Ukraine. On the contrary, the former government of President Leonid Kuchma has made many attempts to put their authenticity in doubt and suggest that they were doctored to compromise Kuchma and other top-ranking Ukrainian officials. Which is no surprise -- the Melnychenko tapes suggest that Kuchma might at least have inspired former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko to abduct Georgian-born Heorhiy Gongadze, founder and editor in chief of the "Ukrayinska pravda" muckraking and investigative website in Ukraine, and "drive him out to Georgia" or hand him over to "the Chechens." Here we present translated excerpts from the tapes dealing with the Gongadze case....(more)