Former Ukraine official gets life for journalist's murder
A Ukrainian former senior official who has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze has implicated the country’s former president Leonid Kuchma in the notorious crime.
Olexiy Pukach, a former interior ministry general, was found guilty yesterday of strangling Mr Gongadze in 2000. He had disappeared in September of that year and his headless body was discovered in woodland outside Kiev two months later. The crime fuelled public anger over lawlessness, corruption and the impunity of powerful figures in Ukraine, and fed into the protest movement that ousted pro-Moscow officials in the 2004 Orange Revolution.
Mr Gongadze was one of the most outspoken critics of the political and business elite that flourished under Mr Kuchma, and his murder has never been fully explained – or, his family and friends say, properly investigated.
Shortly after Mr Gongadze’s murder, one of Mr Kuchma’s former bodyguards aired tapes that he claimed contained secret recordings of the president and his then chief-of-staff Volodymyr Lytvyn and interior minister Yuri Kravchenko discussing how to “deal with” the reporter.
In 2005, after pro-western leaders had taken power in the Orange Revolution, Mr Kravchenko was found dead at his home with gunshot wounds that police said were self-inflicted; sceptics asked how he managed to shoot himself twice.
Mr Kuchma and Mr Lytvyn – who is still a prominent politician in Ukraine – have always denied the authenticity of the tapes and rejected allegations of involvement in the murder of Mr Gongadze.
But Mr Pukach dragged them back into the case yesterday, when the judge asked him if he understood the sentence he had just been given.
“It will be understandable only when Kuchma and Lytvyn are with me,” he said.
In brief comments to journalists, Pukach said the judge and state prosecutors had not been interested in getting to the truth of the case: “So ask Lytvyn and Kuchma about the motive,” he said.
Andrei Fedur, a lawyer for Mr Gongadze’s mother, complained that the court had failed to establish why Mr Pukach killed the journalist, and on whose orders.