Ukraine says late minister ordered Gongadze murder

New York, September 16, 2010–On Tuesday, Ukrainian prosecutors announced that the late Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko had ordered the 2000 murder of muckraking Internet journalist Georgy Gongadze, left, whose decapitated body was found 10 years ago today in a forest outside Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv.
Ukraine’s prosecutor-general’s office said in a statement that investigators have finished their probe. The investigation identified General Aleksei Pukach, who was arrested in July 2009, as the gunman, and Kravchenko, as the mastermind of the journalist’s murder. Pukach is in custody and currently studying the case file against him, local reports said.

Kravchenko was found dead in March 2005–with gunshot wounds to his head–on the day he was to be interrogated about Gongadze’s murder. Authorities swiftly ruled his death a suicide, prompting questions as to how Kravchenko was able to shoot himself twice in the head.

“Ukrainian authorities must make public all details of their investigation into the murder of Georgy Gongadze,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We are skeptical of the outcome of this investigation, considering the alleged mastermind was found dead under unclear circumstances five years ago. Before prosecutors close the books on this important case, all perpetrators involved must be brought to justice.”

Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava Gongadze, accused authorities of trying to close the case by blaming Kravchenko, who is not alive to defend himself, local and international press reported. “Kravchenko did not have any personal motives to order Georgy’s murder,” she told the Russian service of the U.S. government-funded Voice of America. She said she suspects that former President Leonid Kuchma gave the hit order via the head of his administration, Vladimir Litvin. Both have denied involvement.

Kuchma has been suspected in the killing ever since audiotapes made secretly by a former presidential bodyguard surfaced in November 2000; on those recordings, Kuchma is allegedly heard instructing Kravchenko to “drive out” Gongadze and “give him to the Chechens,” according to transcripts obtained by news agencies. Allegations of high-level government involvement in the Gongadze killing dogged Kuchma throughout his final term in office. The murder was among the catalysts for the popular uprising in late 2004 that ousted Kuchma’s administration.