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Ukraine: Officials Thwart FBI Probe Of Journalist's Death

Kyiv, 17 April 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine has said experts with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) invited to help investigate the death of a reporter have left the country after they were denied access to evidence. The embassy said yesterday in a statement that the FBI experts were prevented by Ukrainian officials from viewing the evidence, inspecting the site where the headless body presumed to be that of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze was found, or discussing case details.

Gongadze, a reporter who was critical of President Leonid Kuchma and his policies, was abducted in September 2000; two months later, his headless corpse was discovered in woods outside the Ukrainian capital, Kyiv. Opponents of Kuchma say the president may have been involved in Gongadze's disappearance, whose suspected murder sparked large antigovernment demonstrations.

Ukrainian intelligence officer and presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko emerged on Ukraine's political stage in November 2000, when he published excerpts of what he claimed were secretly recorded conversations of Kuchma. The excerpts included apparent recordings of Kuchma ordering action taken against Gongadze, who was investigating high-level corruption with links to the president.

Kuchma has denied any involvement in the death.

The United States and the European Union have repeatedly called for a full and transparent investigation of the case.