New York, June 22, 2004—Ukraine’s prosecutor-general, Gennady Vasilev, announced yesterday that investigators are questioning a suspect who admitted to killing independent journalist Georgy Gongadze, local reports said. The citizen, identified only as K, is a convicted murderer already in prison for several other killings that involved decapitation, the manner in which Gongadze was killed four years ago, according to Agence France-Presse (AFP).
The Prosecutor-General’s Office stated that in addition to confessing to the murder, the suspect had described in detail the circumstances of Gongadze’s death, particularly the decapitation.
The announcement was met by skepticism, however. A number of local opposition groups accused Ukrainian authorities of trying to avert public attention from a report published in the London-based Independent on Saturday, June 19, suggesting that President Leonid Kuchma impeded the investigation into Gongadze’s murder.
The Independent said it had obtained classified documents supporting its allegations and also claimed to have the results of a secret autopsy performed on the corpse of a key witness, Igor Goncharov, who died in police custody in August 2003. Goncharov’s body was cremated two days after his death, before an autopsy was allegedly performed. The Independent also said on Saturday that documents showed that an injection of a drug called Thiopental caused Goncharov’s death.
Early yesterday, prosecutors stated that they have evidence that Goncharov died of injuries in prison last year. They said an inquiry into the abuse of authority by prison officers had been launched. However, they dismissed the Independent‘s allegations that Goncharov had been injected with Thiopental, the AFP said.
“The timing of this announcement, combined with President Kuchma’s repeated interference in the investigation into Gongadze’s murder, raises deep suspicions,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “We urge the prosecution to pursue every lead in the case and to investigate fully allegations involving President Kuchma.”
Gongadze was the editor of news Web site Ukrainska Pravda (www.pravda.com.ua), which often featured critical articles about President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian government officials. He disappeared in Kyiv in September of 2000, and his headless body was found in November of that year.
For more information on Gongadze’s case, go to CPJ’s list of journalists killed in 2000.