New York, March 4, 2005—Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko was found dead this morning outside the capitol of Kyiv just hours before he was to be questioned by prosecutors about the September 2000 abduction and murder of Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze, according to local and international press reports.
In an apparent suicide, the 53-year-old former police official shot himself at about 8:45 a.m. local time in his summer cottage. Family members discovered the body after hearing the gunshot, according to local press reports. Kravchenko, interior minister when Gongadze was murdered, was expected to report to prosecutors at 10 a.m. today to provide testimony in the case.
“Everyone has a choice: Either appear before the court and publicly stand up for his rights and honor or dispense justice on himself,” Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said after learning of the death, The Associated Press reported. Yushchenko has ordered Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun to personally supervise the investigation into Kravchenko’s death, according to local press reports.
The death came amid a week of startling developments in the case, including the questioning of suspects and an attack on a witness. Some politicians have called on the government to arrest former President Leonid Kuchma and other former officials implicated in Gongadze’s death to ensure that they will testify.
Piskun announced at a press conference on Wednesday that authorities had identified four individuals responsible for Gongadze’s murder, and that prosecutors were planning to question Kravchenko on Friday, according to local and international press reports.
The prosecutor general also called on a former Kuchma bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko, to return to Ukraine and provide authorities with the covert audio recordings he made that are said to implicate Kuchma, Kravchenko and other senior officials. A parliamentary committee last year recommended that a criminal case be opened against Kuchma, who has repeatedly denied accusations of involvement.
Gongadze was the editor of the news Web site Ukrainska Pravda (www.pravda.com.ua), which often featured critical articles about Kuchma and other Ukrainian government officials. He disappeared in Kyiv in September 2000, and his headless body was found in a forest outside the city two months later.
The Ukrainian Interior Ministry said late Sunday that police had identified people believed to have “dragged Gongadze into a car” at the time of his September 2000 abduction. A spokesman said investigators had also identified the vehicle used in the abduction, the news agency Interfax reported.
Hours after the ministry’s announcement, an unidentified assailant tossed a hand grenade at Yuri Nesterov, who was described as witness in the case. Nesterov and a police officer escorting him were seriously injured in the attack in Kyiv, according to local and international reports.
Igor Goncharov, a former police officer and suspect in the murder, said in a letter made public in 2003 that Nesterov took part in the abduction and killing of Gongadze. Goncharov died in prison under mysterious circumstances in August 2003.
For more details on the murder, go to CPJ’s list of journalists killed in 2000.