Thursday, 1 September 2011

Ukraine General Claims Ex-President Kuchma 'Ordered Reporter's Murder'

KIEV, Ukraine -- The main suspect in the notorious murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000 has alleged that former President Leonid Kuchma ordered the killing.
Olexiy Pukach, who has confessed to carrying out the killing, testified in court on Tuesday that he was acting on Kuchma's orders, according to a witness in the trial that is closed to the public.

Pukach, a former general at the Ministry of the Interior, was arrested in 2009 after six years on the run and was said by Ukrainian prosecutors to have confessed to personally strangling and beheading Gongadze.

"He clearly said: it was Kuchma," the witness, Olexiy Podolskyi, told RIA Novosti.

Gongadze, an outspoken critic of then President Kuchma, was kidnapped and his headless body was found months later in a forest in September 2000.

The slaying shocked Ukraine and sparked massive street protests.

Three policemen were jailed for the murder in 2008.

Vyktor Petrunenko, Kuchma's defense lawyer, denied the allegations, saying he has firm evidence to confirm the former president's innocence.

Pukach, the head of the ministry's surveillance department at the time of the killing, said Kuchma was in collusion with current parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn and former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, now dead.

Prosecutors said last year Kravchenko "instigated and ordered" the crime.

In a separate investigation in March, Kuchma was charged with abuse of power over the murder.

Secret tape recordings were released soon after the killing, in which Kuchma is heard discussing with Kravchenko ways of removing the reporter.
Kravchenko was found dead in 2005, with two bullets to the head, and was said to have committed suicide.

Valentyna Telychenko, a lawyer for Gongadze's widow, Myroslava, said Pukach claimed he had "saved Ukraine" by preventing a government coup that Gongadze had been allegedly plotting with two other journalists.

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