Inquiry names Kuchma as mastermind in Gongadze murder

New York, September 22, 2005—A Ukrainian parliamentary commission investigating the 2000 kidnapping and beheading of journalist Georgy Gongadze has accused former President Leonid Kuchma and three senior officials of plotting the murder. In an announcement to parliament on Tuesday the commission named Kuchma, late former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, Parliament Speaker Vladimir Litvin, and Leonid Derkach, former head of the Ukrainian Security Services (SBU) as the masterminds of Gongadze’s murder.

The commission, which has no judicial authority, recommended that the Prosecutor-General’s Office open criminal cases against Kuchma, Litvin and Derkach, the Moscow-based business daily Kommersant reported. All three men, who are believed to be in Ukraine, have denied the allegations. Kravchenko committed suicide on March 4, just hours before he was to be questioned by prosecutors.

The commission’s findings were based on conversations taped secretly by Kuchma’s former bodyguard Mykola Melnichenko. In the tapes, which the commission said were authentic, voices resembling those of Kuchma, Litvin, and others are heard plotting against Gongadze, The Associated Press said.

A voice resembling that of Kuchma is heard instructing someone, whose voice sounds like Kravchenko’s, to remove Gongadze and “throw him to the Chechens,” Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported. Gongadze, editor of news Web site Ukrainska Pravda, which often featured criticism of Kuchma and other high officials, disappeared in the capital, Kiev, in September 2000. His decapitated body was found two months later in a forest outside the city.

On August 1, 2005, the Prosecutor-General’s Office identified three suspects in the killing but did not name the masterminds. Read CPJ’s related alert.

“This is an important development in the investigation of Georgy Gongadze’s murder,” CPJ’s Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We urge Ukraine’s Prosecutor-General’s Office to follow up on the recommendations of the commission of inquiry and thoroughly investigate the allegations made against Kuchma, Kravchenko, Litvin and Dekach.”

RFE/RL said some observers fear that because the commission has no judicial authority prosecutors are not bound to act on its findings. They noted that after the announcement on Tuesday the commission was dissolved.