Ukrainian prosecutors report progress in the Gongadze case

New York, March 11, 2005—The questioning of Ukraine’s former president and negotiations to obtain a potentially key tape recording capped a week of developments in the Ukrainian government’s investigation into the September 2000 abduction and murder of Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze. The once-dormant investigation, given life when President Viktor Yushchenko took office this year, also netted formal charges against two Interior Ministry officers this week, according to local and international press reports.

The Prosecutor General’s Office questioned former President Leonid Kuchma yesterday but did not disclose details of the interview. Kuchma has publicly denied any involvement in the slaying. But a former member of Kuchma’s security detail met with Deputy Prime Minister Mykola Tomenko in Warsaw, Poland, on Tuesday to discuss handing over audiotapes covertly recorded in Kuchma’s office prior to Gongadze’s death, according to local press reports. The ex-agent’s potential court testimony was also discussed.

The tapes, if authenticated by the government, could provide evidence linking Kuchma and several senior government officials to the slaying. On the tapes, Kuchma and other senior officials are said to have discussed ways of silencing Gongadze, whom they considered to be a nuisance.

The government confirmed that Yushchenko plans to meet the ex-security agent, Mykola Melnychenko, in Washington, D.C., in April. Melnychenko, who fled Ukraine and was granted political asylum in the United States in 2001, is considering testifying in a murder trial if his security can be ensured.

The Interior Ministry acknowledged this week that its officers had conducted surveillance of Gongadze in summer 2000, shortly before he was abducted and killed. On Monday, the prosecutor’s office charged two Interior Ministry colonels in the murder, a week after they had been taken into custody for questioning.

Prosecutors were dealt one significant setback when former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko committed suicide on March 4—just hours before he was to be questioned about the Gongadze case.