New York, March 24, 2011–Eleven years after the brutal murder of online journalist Georgy Gongadze, Ukrainian prosecutors today indicted former President Leonid Kuchma on abuse-of-office charges in connection with the slaying, local and international news reports said.
According to the online news outlet Ukrainska Pravda–which Gongadze founded and edited before his murder–prosecutors indicted Kuchma on charges of “abuse of office that led to the journalist’s slaying.” If convicted, the former president faces up to 12 years in jail, Ukrainska Pravda said. Kuchma has denied involvement into the murder.
“We welcome this indictment as a potentially important milestone in achieving justice in this heinous crime,” CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. “We urge authorities to continue to investigate and bring all suspects to justice.”
Three Interior Ministry officers have been convicted and a senior ministry official has been indicted in the slaying. But persistent allegations of high-level government have followed the case since November 2000, when an opposition leader released audio recordings of what he claimed were conversations between Kuchma and two other officials: Vladimir Litvin, the president’s chief of staff and current parliament speaker; and Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, who is now deceased. On the tapes–transcripts of which were reported by news agencies–three male voices discuss various ways of “dealing” with Gongadze.
Litvin has also denied involvement. In 2005, Kravchenko was found dead in his apartment just hours before his scheduled questioning in the Gongadze case. Although Kravchenko suffered two gunshots to the head, authorities said he had committed suicide.
The lingering suspicions have fueled a long-running effort by Gongadze’s family, along with local and international press groups, to press Ukrainian officials for a full investigation. As recently as March 1, CPJ sent a letter to President Viktor Yanukovych, urging the Ukrainian leader to ensure that all perpetrators in the Gongadze case are prosecuted.
CPJ’s worldwide research shows that Gongadze was the first journalist whose work appeared primarily online to be slain for his reporting. Gongadze, 31, a sharp critic of Kuchma’s corrupt policies, vanished on September 16, 2000, after leaving the home of a colleague to meet his wife and two young children. His headless body was discovered in a forest outside the town of Tarashcha two months later.