Global Policy Forum

Three Held Over Beheading of Kiev Corruption Reporter


By Askold Krushelnycky

March 2, 2005

Ukrainian authorities say they have made arrests linked to the country's most politically sensitive murder case, that of the journalist Georgiy Gongadze who campaigned against high-level government corruption, yesterday. Gongadze's headless corpse was discovered in November 2000, weeks after he was last seen in the capital, Kiev.

Leonid Kuchma, who was Ukrainian President at the time, was implicated in his abduction and murder after secret recordings were published of Mr Kuchmaordering senior members of his administration to "take care" of the journalist. Three men have been arrested on suspicion of involvement in the murder. Their names have not been made public but a law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the men had all been senior police officers.

Gongadze became an icon for Ukraine's democratic opposition and the murder was used to rally support for its candidate, Viktor Yushchenko, last autumn. Mr Yushchenko promised to pursue Gongadze's killers if he was elected president. He was inaugurated in January and the new Ukrainian government, which has pledged to root out political cronyism and corruption in the police and courts, replaced many of the law enforcement officials and started or reopened investigations into crimes allegedly carried out by members of the past regime.

Mr Yushchenko, makingthe announcement about the arrests, said: "We have grounds to say that the Gongadze murder case has been solved." He said he had seen secret files detailing Gongadze's last hours and they made ghastly reading. A law enforcement source said: "These people are directly involved in the murder. Perhaps they were not the actual murderers but they were there during the killing."

The minister for Internal Affairs, Yuriy Lutsenko, who oversees the police, said: "We want to find out not just who carried out the killings but who ordered them. That is going to be more complicated but we'll get there." Under Mr Kuchma, investigations into Gongadze's murder yielded no results. The Independent forced the murder back on to the agenda last summer after documents leaked to the newspaper indicated obstruction of the investigation at the highest levels. The documents included a secret autopsy on the body of a key witness who died in custody, showing he was beaten and injected with a drug.

Those who saw the documents said they were dismayed that investigations, which pointed to high-level involvement in the murder, had been suppressed and that the prosecutor general, Svyatoslav Piskun, who was close to bringing charges in the case, was fired. His replacement, Gennadiy Vasilyev, appointed by Mr Kuchma, began to stifle further inquiry. He released from custody a top-ranking police official who the documents showed had destroyed important papers in the case and had possibly played a role in Gongadze's death.

Mr Yushchenko has fired Mr Vasilyev and reinstated Mr Piskun who is investigating Mr Kuchma and some of his associates for suspected crimes. Rumours that Gongadze's head had been found were denied. Some close to the inquiry believe he was decapitated because he was killed by a bullet that lodged in his head and could be traced to a government-issued firearm.

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