Ukraine ex-leader charged over murder

Prosecutors formally charge former president Leonid Kuchma over the killing of a journalist in 2000.

Kuchma is accused of giving illegal orders to police that led to the murder of Georgiy Gongadze [Reuters]

Leonid Kuchma, the ex-Ukrainian president, has been formally charged over the killing of journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000, the country’s most notorious post-Soviet crime.

“I have been served with charges,” Kuchma told reporters on Thursday following his second session of questioning by prosecutors who placed him under investigation earlier this week.

“I have not yet read (them) from beginning to end,” he said in televised remarks, adding he would have another session with the investigators on Monday next week.

He declined to elaborate on the nature of charges, only saying it was “nothing new”.

Prosecutors announced earlier this week they had opened a criminal probe against Kuchma on suspicion that he gave the orders that led to the brutal murder of Gongadze in 2000.

The prosecutors stopped short of saying Kuchma – Ukraine’s president from 1994-2005 – was suspected of personally masterminding the murder, saying the former president was suspected of abuse of power and giving illegal orders to police that led to Gongadze’s death.

The announcement caused a sensation in Ukraine, coming after a decade of pressure from Kuchma’s opponents to have him face trial for the killing of the journalists, who was a trenchant critic of the president.

Murder mystery

Prosecutors had appeared to draw a line under the case last year by saying that former interior minister Yury Kravchenko – who committed suicide in 2005 – ordered the murder.

But Gongadze’s family alleged the authorities were seeking to pin all the blame on a dead man to protect someone of greater importance.

Olexy Pukach, a former interior ministry employee, has been in custody since 2009 in connection with the murder.

He has confessed to personally strangling the journalist with his belt and beheading him with an axe.

Kuchma said he had personally confronted Pukach, who had been summoned to the prosecutors office earlier in the day.

“I can say that was a confrontation with Pukach,” local news agencies quoted Kuchma as saying.

“Pukach, I believe…(acts) according to a principle – no man, no problem,” he said, suggesting that Pukach was seeking to pass the buck to deceased Kravchenko.

Also present as the prosecutor’s office on Thursday was Mykola Melnichenko, a former bodyguard of Kuchma who recorded tapes where voices – including one alleged to be of Kuchma – could be heard speaking about eliminating Gongadze.

Crucially, prosecutors ruled that the tapes were admissible evidence, for the first time since they were made public in 2000.

The tapes, whose publication at the time prompted mass protests in Ukraine, contain a voice resembling that of Kuchma suggesting to have Gongadze “kidnapped by Chechens”.

Source: News Agencies