Gongadze, editor of the news Web site Ukrainska Pravda
(www.pravda.com.ua), which often featured critical articles about
President Leonid Kuchma and other Ukrainian government officials,
disappeared in Kyiv. In late November, a massive political scandal
erupted after an opposition leader released an audiotape that seemed to
implicate Kuchma and two senior aides in Gongadze's disappearance.
Gongadze, 31, left the home of a colleague at 10:20 p.m. to meet his
wife and two young children at home. He never arrived. The police
launched an investigation, while the Ukrainian Parliament formed a
special commission to examine the case.
Shortly after Gongadze disappeared, Deputy Interior Minister Mykola
Dzhyha announced that authorities were considering three possible
scenarios: that Gongadze had staged his own abduction, that he had been
involved in an accident, or that the abduction was related to his
On September 19, however, Dzhyha announced that the police had ruled
out any political motive. The police then suggested that the
disappearance was related to Gongadze's personal life. CPJ expressed
serious doubts about the credibility of the investigation in a
September 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 the
body placed the time of death well before the date of Gongadze's
disappearance. They did not ask anyone from the journalist's family to
identify the body, however. Despite the local coroner's pleas to have
the 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 to
visit Tarashcha on November 15. Based on jewelry found at the scene and
an X-ray of the corpse's hand, which showed an old shrapnel injury
matching one that Gongadze had suffered while covering the conflict in
Abkhazia, a region of Georgia, they concluded that the corpse was
The local coroner issued a death certificate to the group confirming
their findings and offered to turn over the body to them. But when the
journalists returned to the morgue with a car and a coffin, they found
that the state prosecutor had already removed the corpse and
transported it to Kyiv for DNA testing. In late November, the
prosecutor's office launched a half-hearted effort to secure blood
samples from Gongadze's family, only obtaining the samples in
On November 28, Oleksandr Moroz, the leader of the Socialist Party and
a longtime rival of President Kuchma, released tape recordings of what
he claimed were conversations between Kuchma, Presidential Chief of
Staff Vladimir Litvin, and Interior Minister Yury Kravchenko. On the
tape, three male voices discuss various ways of "dealing" with
Gongadze. In casual, profanity-laced tones, they discuss undercover
surveillance, deporting him back to his native Georgia, prosecuting him
in Ukraine, or having a group of Chechens kidnap him. The speakers are
clearly concerned about Gongadze's journalism. "You give me this same
one 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 unnamed
former officer of the Special Communication Detachment of Ukraine's
State Security Service (SBU) who was responsible for communications
security within President Kuchma's office, the Kyiv Post
reported. Moroz said he had delayed releasing the tapes until late
November in order to have them authenticated by foreign experts, and to
give the source's family time to leave the country.
In early December, three Ukrainian Parliament deputies traveled to an
undisclosed European Union country and videotaped their meeting with
the officer, who was identified as Mykola Melnychenko, a 34-year-old
major. On the video, Major Melnychenko claims that he secretly recorded
Kuchma's conversations by placing a digital audio recorder under a sofa
in the president's office. Melnychenko justifies his actions by saying,
"I gave my oath of allegiance to Ukraine, to the people of Ukraine. I
did not break my oath. I did not swear allegiance to Kuchma to perform
his criminal orders."
At year's end, the tapes had not yet been authenticated by a neutral
third party. But it seemed credible for several reasons, according to a
CPJ source close to the investigation who did not wish to be
identified. The informal manner of speaking and frequent use of
expletives match Kuchma's conversational style. Also, researchers from
the Dutch Institute of Applied Scientific Research, hired by a Dutch
tabloid to evaluate the tapes, concluded that the recordings had not
been doctored, although they were unable to identify the voices
conclusively, the Kyiv Post
reported. And while Moroz was a bitter rival of Kuchma, he was known to
be relatively cautious in making accusations against other politicians,
particularly the president.
Kuchma flatly denied
that he had anything to do with Gongadze's disappearance and described
the Moroz tape as a "provocation," according to the ITAR-TASS news
The government's agitated response to the scandal only fueled public
suspicion. A presidential spokesman denied Moroz's allegations on the
same day that he made them. Meanwhile, a local prosecutor announced he
was launching a criminal investigation into Moroz's alleged "insults
and slander" against President Kuchma.
On December 4, just as the allegations against Kuchma were gaining
momentum, Kyiv police announced that Gongadze had died in an attempted
robbery. But by then, public confidence in the investigation had
dwindled to a point where some opposition politicians were even
questioning whether the body being examined in Kyiv was the same corpse
that was found in Tarashcha.
On December 18, Gongadze's wife, Myroslava, identified the jewelry
found by the body in Tarashcha as belonging to her husband. And
although the corpse was badly decomposed, she claimed to recognize her
In late December, German forensic experts determined that the corpse
found in Tarashcha was indeed Gongadze's, according to the German news
agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur. The Ukrainian government promised to
conduct DNA tests but had not yet done so by early January.