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Suspect In Gongadze Killing Seeks New Defense Counsel

A TV grab shows Lieutenant General Oleksiy Pukach during his arrest by Ukrainian security services in July 2009.
KYIV -- The prime suspect in the killing a decade ago of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze has dismissed his defense attorney, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reports.

Oleh Musienko, the lawyer for murder suspect Oleksiy Pukach, told journalists that Pukach has decided to replace him. Musienko claimed that Pukach made the decision under pressure.

He said it is unclear who will take over defending Pukach, adding that it will be a lawyer "who suits the investigators."

Pukach is the former head of the main criminal investigation department at the Interior Ministry's foreign surveillance unit. He was arrested in July 2009 in Zhitomir Oblast.

An investigative journalist, Gongadze was kidnapped in September 2000. His headless body was found shortly thereafter.

On September 14, the Prosecutor-General's Office announced that the investigation of Gongadze's killing was nearing completion and alleged that the killing had been ordered by then-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko.

Kravchenko was found dead in his summer house near Kyiv on in March 2005. The official cause of death was said to be suicide.

Earlier this month, the Prosecutor-General's Office replaced Oleksandr Kharchenko, head of the group of investigators in the Gongadze case, with Vladislav Hryshchenko, the lead investigator of several very serious crimes.