Prosecutor says Gongadze probe moves to new phase

New York, August 2, 2005—The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General’s Office announced last night that it has completed the first part of its investigation into the 2000 murder of Georgy Gongadze, editor of the independent news Web site Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth).

Yuri Boychenko, a spokesman for the prosecutor, said yesterday that authorities have identified the suspects who carried out Gongadze’s murder and the case may soon go to court, according to local press reports. Two of the three suspects in the killing—police officers Nikolai Protasov and Valery Kostenko—are in custody. An arrest warrant has been issued for the other suspect, Gen. Aleksandr Pukach, former head of the criminal investigation department at the Ministry of Interior.

Svyatoslav Piskun, the prosecutor-general, has said that a higher-ranking official probably ordered the killing but it was “difficult to say” whom, the independent Russian Web site reported today. Authorities said they would continue to investigate who may have ordered the murder, according to news reports. Ukrainska Pravda often featured criticism of former President Leonid Kuchma and other high-ranking officials.

Now that the first part of the investigation is completed, authorities will give the 60-volume criminal case file to Gongadze’s family for review. The case file will then be given to the suspects and their lawyers for their review.

Piskun told 5 Kanal television yesterday that a new examination of Gongadze’s remains will be completed by the end of August.

“We welcome progress in the investigation into the murder of our colleague Georgy Gongadze,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “But we also urge authorities to continue their efforts to identify and prosecute the masterminds of this terrible crime.”

The Ukrainian government has offered to pay Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava, 100,000 euros (US$122,000) in exchange for her withdrawing a claim against Ukrainian authorities filed with the Strasbourg, France-based European Court of Human Rights in September 2002, according to press reports. Gongadze’s claim is still pending.

In her claim, Gongadze said that Ukrainian authorities failed to protect her husband, and she accused them of creating a climate of fear by issuing conflicting statements about the investigation, the news agency ITAR-TASS reported.

For more information on the Gongadze murder investigation, read CPJ’s April 5 alert.