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8 February, 2013  ▪  Milan Lielich

The Unfinished Gongadze Case

Oleksiy Pukach is sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Georgiy Gongadze but says that Kuchma and Lytvyn should be behind bars too

The Pechersk District Court in Kyiv announced its verdict against the last of those directly involved in the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze in September 2000. The ex-chief of the Criminal Investigation Office, General Oleksiy Pukach, was sentenced to life in prison. In 2008, his accomplices, three subordinate policemen, were sentenced to 12-13 years.

Pukach’s evidence often surprised those present in court – but not the press, which was not allowed in. Among other things, he claimed that Gongadze was a foreign intelligence agent or had been plotting a state overthrow. He pleaded partly guilty in the murder of Gongadze saying that he wanted to threaten him, but accidentally broke his neck, leading to his death. However, the court did not take this argument into account.

The reasons Pukach gave as his motive for the crime look more intriguing. He said that he was executing the order of ex-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko in the hope of getting a promotion and higher rank. “It surprises me that the court deemed the fact of the Interior Minister Kravchenko’s order to Pukach to be proved, yet did not see that it was a contract killing,” said Valentyna Telychenko, the lawyer for Gongadze’s widow Myroslava immediately after the verdict was announced. “The verdict does not mention the names of those who hypothetically contracted the murder.”

Telychenko hopes to appeal the verdict against Pukach and demand the determination by the court that the crime was a contract murder. She added that, together with Myroslava Gongadze, she will demand the renewal of proceedings in the case against Yuriy Kravchenko, which was previously separated out into an individual file. “The case against those who ordered the murder of Gongadze is not formally closed and has to be reopened” Telychenko said.

Pukach disclosed the names of those who potentially ordered the murder in summer 2011. They included ex-president Leonid Kuchma, and Volodymyr Lytvyn, the then Chief of Staff and ex-Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada. He mentioned their names again after he heard his verdict: “I will agree (to the verdict – Ed.) when Kuchma and Lytvyn are in this cage with me.” So far, there has been no reaction from the Prosecutor General’s Office. Of all the cases related to the murder of Gongadze, only the one concerning ex-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko’s complicity remains open. It has been eight years since the mysterious death of the latter, so it looks as if it will stay that way.

Clearly, Kravchenko is the most convenient participant in the Gongadze case. The late minister cannot give anyone away. But the question of Kuchma’s and Lytvyn’s involvement in the murder remains unanswered for society even after Pukach’s sentencing. In fact, keeping them both on the hook is convenient for those in power in Ukraine. Even though he has stayed out of politics for a while now, Kuchma has influence over Viktor Pinchuk (notably, Pinchuk’s TV channels turned a blind eye to the fact that Pukach mentioned Kuchma and Lytvyn in his final words in court) and politicians linked to him – and he may become yet another prosecution witness in cases against Yulia Tymoshenko, since the relevant events took place when he was president. Volodymyr Lytvyn, as well as a number of people linked to him, remains part of the majority in parliament, although his one-time political influence has plummeted, and the phantom of the Gongadze case guarantees his loyalty when voting.

Apparently, it is no coincidence that the Prosecutor General charged Tymoshenko with involvement in the murder of Donetsk businessman Yevhen Shcherban in 1996 at the same time as Pukach heard his verdict – she could also end up serving a life term for this. All this looks like an attempt to persuade Ukrainian society, and most importantly, Western politicians, that the Ukrainian judiciary does not only punish opposition politicians for scandalous contract murders. However, since those who really ordered the murder of Gongadze have not yet faced due punishment, the Gongadze case remains a tool of political games – as it has been for the past decade.

GONGADZE CASE CHRONICLES

16 September 2000

Journalist Georgiy Gongadze leaves his office at 10.30p.m. and disappears in an unknown direction

2 November 2000

An unidentified beheaded body is found in a forest near Tarashcha, a town in the Kyiv Oblast, later recognized as the body of the murdered journalist

28 November 2000

The leader of the Socialist Party, Oleksandr Moroz, accuses President Leonid Kuchma of the murder and reveals the existence of Melnychenko’s tapes

December 2000

A tent city is set up on Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kyiv and the Ukraine Without Kuchma protest begins

January 2001

The Prosecutor General initiates a case against Major Melnychenko, accusing him of slander

27 February 2001

The Prosecutor General initiates a case under charges of murder

9 March 2001

After clashes in front of the Presidential Administration, the Ukraine Without Kuchma protest ends

April 2001

Mykola Melnychenko and Gongadze’s widow, Myroslava, are granted political asylum in the USA

15 May 2001

Interior Minister Yuriy Smyrnov announces that Gongadze’s murder was not politically motivated and was committed by former prisoners who died in December 2000

September 2002

The Temporary Investigation Committee of the Verkhovna Rada demands the initiation by the Prosecutor General of a criminal case against Leonid Kuchma and his closest circle, including Volodymyr Lytvyn, Yuriy Kravchenko and Leonid Derkach, for contracting Gongadze’s kidnapping

October-November 2003

General Oleksiy Pukach is arrested on charges of destroying documents that prove the organization of the surveillance of Gongadze, but is soon released under a pledge to stay in town and cleared of all charges

14 January 2005

A criminal case for abuse of office is launched against Oleksiy Pukach; he is put on a wanted list on 24 January

1 March 2005

President Viktor Yushchenko announces the arrest of Gongadze’s murderers

3 March 2005

The Prosecutor General, Sviatoslav Piskun, discloses the intent to interrogate ex-Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko regarding his involvement in the Gongadze case

4 March 2005

Kravchenko is found dead at his country home in Koncha-Zaspa, Kyiv Oblast. Investigators qualify this as suicide, although two gunshot wounds are found in his head

9 January 2006

The Kyiv Court of Appeal starts hearings on the involvement of ex-police officers Mykola Protasov, Valeriy Kostenko and Oleksandr Popovych in the murder of Gongadze. The trial takes place behind closed doors

29 August 2006

Lesia Gongadze, the mother of Georgiy Gongadze, makes a public statement, saying that she has no confidence in the investigation and the court as regards her son’s case

15 March 2008

The Kyiv Court of Appeal sentences Protasov to 13 years in jail, and Kostenko and Popovych to 12

31 May 2009

Retired Major-General Eduard Fere, considered to be close to Oleksiy Pukach, dies after a lengthy coma

21 July 2009

Pukach is arrested in a village in Zhytomyr Oblast

28 July 2009

Pukach mentions a village in Kyiv Oblast where investigators find fragments of a skull considered to be Gongadze’s

10 September 2010

The pre-trial investigation on the Gongadze case is completed - Pukach is the only one charged. According to prosecution’s conclusions, he acted on an order issued by Kravchenko

28 April 2011

Pukach’s trial begins at the Pechersk District Court in Kyiv

23 May 2011

The Prosecutor General’s Office files charges of abuse of office leading to the death of Gongadze against Leonid Kuchma

30 August 2011

Oleksiy Pukach names Kuchma, Lytvyn and Kravchenko as those who ordered Gongadze’s murder

21 October 2011

The Constitutional Court of Ukraine rules that the evidence collected by someone who is not authorized to collect it, cannot be used as grounds for prosecution; thus, Melnychenko’s tapes are no longer valid as evidence

14 December 2011

The Pechersk District Court in Kyiv qualifies the case against Leonid Kuchma as illegitimate. On 20 January 2012, the decision is confirmed by the Kyiv Court of Appeal, then by the High Special Court of Ukraine for Civil and Criminal Cases on 26 June

29 January 2013

The Pechersk District Court sentences Oleksiy Pukach to life in prison


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