Georgy Gongadze

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Gongadze, editor of the news Web site Ukrainska Pravda(www.pravda.com.ua), which often featured critical articles aboutPresident Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian government officials,disappeared in Kyiv. In late November, a massive political scandalerupted after an opposition leader released an audiotape that seemed toimplicate Kuchma and two senior aides in Gongadze's disappearance.

Gongadze, 31, left the home of a colleague at 10:20 p.m. to meet hiswife and two young children at home. He never arrived. The policelaunched an investigation, while the Ukrainian Parliament formed aspecial commission to examine the case.

Shortly after Gongadze disappeared, Deputy Interior Minister MykolaDzhyha announced that authorities were considering three possiblescenarios: that Gongadze had staged his own abduction, that he had beeninvolved in an accident, or that the abduction was related to hisjournalism.

On September 19, however, Dzhyha announced that the police had ruledout any political motive. The police then suggested that thedisappearance was related to Gongadze's personal life. CPJ expressedserious doubts about the credibility of the investigation in aSeptember 25 letter to President Kuchma.

On the night of November 2-3, a farmer discovered a headless corpse outside the town of Tarashcha, and local journalists immediately speculated that it might be Gongadze's. On November 6, regional officials visited Tarashcha to conduct an investigation.

The officials quickly announced that the advanced decomposition of thebody placed the time of death well before the date of Gongadze'sdisappearance. They did not ask anyone from the journalist's family toidentify the body, however. Despite the local coroner's pleas to havethe body removed, it remained in an unrefrigerated morgue in Tarashcha,where it continued to decompose.

Persistent rumors of a cover-up led several of Gongadze's colleagues tovisit Tarashcha on November 15. Based on jewelry found at the scene andan X-ray of the corpse's hand, which showed an old shrapnel injurymatching one that Gongadze had suffered while covering the conflict inAbkhazia, a region of Georgia, they concluded that the corpse wasindeed Gongadze's.

The local coroner issued a death certificate to the group confirmingtheir findings and offered to turn over the body to them. But when thejournalists returned to the morgue with a car and a coffin, they foundthat the state prosecutor had already removed the corpse andtransported it to Kyiv for DNA testing. In late November, theprosecutor's office launched a half-hearted effort to secure bloodsamples from Gongadze's family, only obtaining the samples inmid-December.

On November 28, Oleksandr Moroz, the leader of the Socialist Party anda longtime rival of President Kuchma, released tape recordings of whathe claimed were conversations between Kuchma, Presidential Chief ofStaff Vladimir Litvin, and Interior Minister Yury Kravchenko. On thetape, three male voices discuss various ways of "dealing" withGongadze. In casual, profanity-laced tones, they discuss undercoversurveillance, deporting him back to his native Georgia, prosecuting himin Ukraine, or having a group of Chechens kidnap him. The speakers areclearly concerned about Gongadze's journalism. "You give me this sameone at Ukrainska Pravda and we will start to decide what to do with him," one says. "He's simply gone too far."

Moroz claimed he had received the tapes in mid-October from an unnamedformer officer of the Special Communication Detachment of Ukraine'sState Security Service (SBU) who was responsible for communicationssecurity within President Kuchma's office, the Kyiv Postreported. Moroz said he had delayed releasing the tapes until lateNovember in order to have them authenticated by foreign experts, and togive the source's family time to leave the country.

In early December, three Ukrainian Parliament deputies traveled to anundisclosed European Union country and videotaped their meeting withthe officer, who was identified as Mykola Melnychenko, a 34-year-oldmajor. On the video, Major Melnychenko claims that he secretly recordedKuchma's conversations by placing a digital audio recorder under a sofain the president's office. Melnychenko justifies his actions by saying,"I gave my oath of allegiance to Ukraine, to the people of Ukraine. Idid not break my oath. I did not swear allegiance to Kuchma to performhis criminal orders."

At year's end, the tapes had not yet been authenticated by a neutralthird party. But it seemed credible for several reasons, according to aCPJ source close to the investigation who did not wish to beidentified. The informal manner of speaking and frequent use ofexpletives match Kuchma's conversational style. Also, researchers fromthe Dutch Institute of Applied Scientific Research, hired by a Dutchtabloid to evaluate the tapes, concluded that the recordings had notbeen doctored, although they were unable to identify the voicesconclusively, the Kyiv Postreported. And while Moroz was a bitter rival of Kuchma, he was known tobe relatively cautious in making accusations against other politicians,particularly the president.

Kuchma flatly deniedthat he had anything to do with Gongadze's disappearance and describedthe Moroz tape as a "provocation," according to the ITAR-TASS newsagency.

The government's agitated response to the scandal only fueled publicsuspicion. A presidential spokesman denied Moroz's allegations on thesame day that he made them. Meanwhile, a local prosecutor announced hewas launching a criminal investigation into Moroz's alleged "insultsand slander" against President Kuchma.

On December 4, just as the allegations against Kuchma were gainingmomentum, Kyiv police announced that Gongadze had died in an attemptedrobbery. But by then, public confidence in the investigation haddwindled to a point where some opposition politicians were evenquestioning whether the body being examined in Kyiv was the same corpsethat was found in Tarashcha.

On December 18, Gongadze's wife, Myroslava, identified the jewelryfound by the body in Tarashcha as belonging to her husband. Andalthough the corpse was badly decomposed, she claimed to recognize herhusband's foot.

In late December, German forensic experts determined that the corpsefound in Tarashcha was indeed Gongadze's, according to the German newsagency Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The Ukrainian government promised toconduct DNA tests but had not yet done so by early January.

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