KIEV, Ukraine -- Mykola Melnychenko, a former bodyguard of ex-President Leonid Kuchma, this week repeated allegations that parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn was behind the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
After saying on television that Lytyvn had ordered the murder of the muckraking journalist in 2000, he alleged in a telephone interview with the Kyiv Post that Lytvyn had convinced Kuchma to have Gongadze dealt with outside the law.“Lytvyn brought articles [by Gongadze] to Kuchma that were critical about Kuchma and his family. But when Kuchma wanted to take Gongadze to court, Lytvyn convinced him to get [former Interior Minister Yuriy] Kravchenko to deal with him using his methods,” he said.Lytvyn, Kuchma’s chief of staff in 1999 and 2000, denies involvement in the murder. Olha Chorna, a spokesperson for Lytvyn, dismissed Melnychenko’s claims as part of the presidential election campaign. “It’s ridiculous. It’s not the first time he’s brought this up. Melnychenko has learnt to make money from these accusations,” she said.Gongadze, who co-founded the opposition Ukrainska Pravda web site in April 2000, disappeared in September 2000. His decapitated remains were found in November, two months later, outside Kyiv. In recordings made secretly in Kuchma’s office by Melnychenko, a voice resembling Kuchma’s told Kravchenko to “deal with” Gongadze.“Take his pants off and give him to the Chechens,” the voice said.The 10-year investigation into who ordered murder accelerated this summer after the capture of Oleksiy Pukach, a police general who allegedly carried out the killing. Pukach is currently being held in police custody, but there has been no report of progress since his arrest.Melnychenko fled Ukraine in November 2000, taking up to 1,000 hours of highly compressed digital audio recordings to Ostrava in the Czech Republic. The United States granted the former guard, his wife and young daughter refugee status in April 2001.The International Press Institute in February 2001 vouched for the authenticity of 45 hours of the recorded conversations. Lytvyn and Kuchma have denied giving a direct order to murder Gongadze.The results of analysis by experts in Germany were received by the Prosecutor General’s Office in November, although its examination of the materials was delayed by the poor quality of the translation into Ukrainian. Yuri Boichenko, spokesman for the prosecutor’s office, on Dec. 6 declined to say exactly what recordings were analyzed.“I cannot comment on the analysis because it is part of a criminal investigation,” Boichenko said. He added that Melnychenko, who is a witness in the case, had also signed a confidentiality agreement not to talk publicly about the recordings.Last month, officials from the prosecutor’s office complained that Lytvyn refuses to cooperate with the investigation where he is also a witness. As a member of parliament possessing immunity he cannot be forcefully detained for questioning.Melnychenko told the Kyiv Post on Dec. 9 that he possesses a recording of the conversation between Kuchma and Lytvyn. On Dec. 10 he gave the Kyiv Post one of the 18 recorded excerpts checked this year for authenticity by German audio forensic experts, saying the minutes-long audio file demonstrates Lytvyn’s role in the abduction and murder of Gongadze. Voices resembling former president Kuchma and Lytvyn are heard on the recording.Chorna accused Melnychenko of working for Lytvyn’s opponents in order to sabotage his support rating in the presidential campaign. A survey at the end of November by the FOM-Ukraine pollster put Lytvyn’s support at 2.5 percent.Melnychenko denied allegations of attempts to sabotage Lytvyn’s campaign, saying, “For me it’s important only that people whose hands are covered in blood are brought to justice.”Melnychenko isn’t the only one who’s bringing up Lytvyn’s alleged involvement in Gongadze’s murder. Oleksandr Moroz, the leader of the Socialist Party who revealed the Melnychenko tapes in parliament in 2000, also accused the current parliamentary speaker in November. Moroz is also running in the current presidential race.