September 16, 2010 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Dead official gets sole blame for journalist’s murder 10 years ago

Former interior minister Yuri Kravchenko, who took his own life in unclear circumstances in 2005, was the sole instigator of the September 2000 abduction and murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze, the Ukraine attorney-general’s office announced on 14 September, saying the pre-trial investigation into the case was now virtually concluded. An online newspaper editor who was very critical of then President Leonid Kuchma, Gongadze disappeared on 16 September 2000. His headless body was found a month later in a forest outside Kiev. The announcement was made in a statement signed by Alexander Kharshenko, the chief investigator at the attorney-general’s office. Referring to Gen. Oleksiy Pukach, then head of the interior ministry’s intelligence service, the statement said: “On 13 or 14 September, Kravchenko verbally ordered Pukach to murder Gongadze in order to put an end to his journalistic activities. For personal and career interests (...) Pukach agreed to carry out this order.” Reporters Without Borders is surprised that the then interior minister has been named as the murder’s sole instigator, especially as the statement from the attorney-general’s office gives no clues as to his motives for wanting to put a stop to Gongadze’s journalistic activities in such a drastic manner. The press freedom organisation shares the doubts expressed by journalists and the Gongadze family’s lawyers. After 10 years of investigation, it seems that prosecutors are relying solely on Gen. Pukach’s confession and that is not good enough. Arrested in July 2009, Pukach has confessed to strangling Gongadze with his belt and then beheading him with an axe. He is due to be tried at the end of the year and faces life imprisonment. Gen. Pukach was clearly the perpetrator of the murder and he was probably acting on Kravchenko’s orders. But does that mean we know where the order originated? “It is extremely convenient to put the entire blame for this murder on Yuri Kravchenko, who is dead, and to say the case is solved,” Valery Kalnysh, the deputy editor of the influential newspaper Kommersant Ukraina, wrote in his blog. “But what did the interior minister have against the journalist? Nothing. I assume he was acting on orders.” Gongadze’s mother, Lessia Gongadze, had a similar reaction: “Putting all the blame on Kravchenko is so easy (...) This nightmare has been going on for 10 years. The attorney-general’s office is falsifying everything. The only thing that interests the country’s new authorities is demonstrating to the international community that they have solved the case.” Gongadze family lawyer Valentyna Telychenko and family members were allowed yesterday to examine 20 of the 132 tons of documents that investigators into the case have gathered in the course of the past 10 years. “So far I have more questions than answers,” Telychenko told the BBC. While it was too soon for her to reach any conclusions, she said she did not believe the conclusions reached by the attorney-general’s office. “I do not rule out that it may be necessary to open a new investigation,” she added.