New York, March 1, 2005—Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko said today that Kyiv investigators had detained and were questioning suspects in the 2000 murder of investigative reporter Georgy Gongadze, whose decapitation had shocked Ukraine and whose unsolved case had tainted the highest reaches of government. The Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the president’s announcement and urged investigators to continue pursuing all those who plotted and carried out the slaying.
Yushchenko did not identify the suspects or give other details, but most local press reports said two law enforcement officers were being questioned. Yushchenko, elected to a first term in December, had pledged that his government would make the Gongadze investigation a priority.
A parliamentary committee last year recommended that a criminal case be opened against former President Leonid Kuchma, who has been publicly implicated as the alleged mastermind. Kuchma has repeatedly denied the accusations. 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.
“We are heartened to hear of potential developments in the case, and we urge officials to continue their work in bringing to justice all those responsible for the murder of our colleague Georgy Gongadze,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “Until this horrific murder is solved—and the masterminds are prosecuted—it remains a terrible stain on the integrity of the government and judicial system of Ukraine. We urge investigators to continue every effort to identify all of the perpetrators.”
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, a key witness in the murder. 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.