KIEV, Ukraine -- For 10 years the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office has been saying that the case of the high-profile murder of journalist Gyorgy Gongadze has been cracked, the killer and organizer identified. But doubts have festered the whole while, and the long-awaited result of a pre-trial investigation, released by the prosecutor’s office Tuesday, have only served to reignite the debate.
The statement comes before the 10-year anniversary of the killing on Sep.16.
The prosecutor’s office said the killer of the journalist was Oleksiy Pukach, former chief of criminal investigation at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry's foreign surveillance unit; the organizer, they said, was the late Internal Affairs Minister Yurii Kravchenko.
In his office in September 2000, Kravchenko reportedly ordered that Pukach kill the journalist; five years later Kravchenko died under unusual circumstances, supposedly by suicide.
Family members of journalist Gongadze and rights groups supporting him doubt the creditability of the claim that Kravchenko ordered the killing. They argue that officials are attempting to rush the case to a speedy close by naming a suspect long dead.
Gongadze’s journalism often focused on investigating government corruption; he disappeared on Sept. 16, 2000, his headless body later unearthed in a suburb in Kyiv—though Gongadze’s mother doubts that body was actually her son’s.
“The statement is suspicious to me. Saying Kravchenko was the organizer is saying that there is no organizer identified,” said Valentina Telichenko, lawyer of the wife of the murdered journalist, to Ukrainian BBC.
A breakthrough in the stalled case came last summer when the alleged assassin, Oleksiy Pukach, was arrested.
Others known to be involved in the case were left out of the statement by the prosecutor’s office. This includes former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, current parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn, and other high level officials. The omission has angered critics.
the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) also aired their views in a press statement and detailed report: “This information raises more questions than it answers. Can it credibly be claimed that no one else within the internal affairs ministry was involved?”
The former president and current speaker are known to be implicated because conversations in the office of former President Kuchma were tape-recorded by his bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko.
There is also a chance that those recordings will be inadmissible unless the bodyguard is called in for questioning within a few weeks. After that he will be protected by the statute of limitations, and out of bounds for investigation, according to the IFJ.
Over the years the case made little progress because the killer or killers, and the organizer, were not found. For much of the time the prosecutor's office was simply not interested in following the case up, critics say.
Though it’s true that Lytvyn is now “on the hook,” according to Telichenko, the lawyer, “The case has been exploited by politicians for blackmailing each other to earn political points.”
The official, full results of the investigation have not yet been made public, which may happen on Sept. 16. The prosecutor put only a brief explanation on his website on Tuesday.
However, the Ukrainian Internet news website Ukrainska Pravda, founded by Gongadze, has published a report documenting what it has learned from sources in the prosecutor’s office.
According to evidence from Pukach, the man currently accused of the killing, after the murder of the journalist on Sept. 17, 2000, Lytvyn (current parliamentary speaker) dropped by the interior ministry.
Pukach testified that the late Internal Affairs Minister Yurii Kravchenko introduced him to Lytvyn saying: “Vladimir Mikhalovich [Lytvyn], this is our officer who personally killed Gongadze.”
Kravchenko also told him: “Let the president know that we will carry out any of his orders,” Ukrainska Pravda reported.
It is not clear whether the court hearing will be open or not. If it is, the facts that Pukach is expected to reveal may ruin the careers of some of Ukraine’s most highly placed politicians.
“The Gongadze case has not yet reached its end,” Pukach was reported as saying last year at the time of his arrest. “Ukraine will shake when people find out the full truth.”