Reporters Without Borders roundly condemns a decision by Kiev’s Pechersky district court on 13 December to dismiss charges against former president Leonid Kuchma in connection with the murder of investigative journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000.
In line with a ruling by the country’s highest appeal court in October (see below), the Pechersky court dismissed the case against Kuchma on the grounds that the evidence – tape recordings made secretly by his bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko – was obtained illegally and therefore could not be used against him.
“It is very regrettable that Kuchma is getting off on a legal technicality without the evidence against him being the subject of a full hearing,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This outcome leaves all the questions unanswered and does absolutely nothing to help establish the truth about Gongadze’s murder.
“The investigation will not advance by sweeping aside the recordings that have always been at the centre of this case. After the many other irregularities that have marked this case from the outset, this ruling is one more reason for seriously questioning the impartiality of Ukrainian justice.”
Valentyna Telichenko, the lawyer who represents Gongadze’s widow, said she would appeal against the 13 December decision. The prosecutor-general’s office is also planning to appeal, spokesman Yuri Boychenko said. Reporters Without Borders urges the courts that examine these appeals to overturn the Pechersky court’s ruling and to reinstate the Melnychenko recordings as prosecution evidence.
The trial of Gen. Oleksiy Pukach, a senior intelligence officer who allegedly confessed to carry out the Gongadze murder on orders from a superior, is meanwhile continuing behind closed doors.
31.10.2011 - Clandestine recordings ruled out as evidence against ex-President Kuchma
Reporters Without Borders regrets that the constitutional court has taken an “irrevocable decision” not to admit clandestine recordings of former President Leonid Kuchma as evidence that he ordered journalist Georgy Gongadze’s murder in 2000.
In a ruling on 20 October, the court rejected the recordings as evidence at the request of the Ukrainian intelligence services on the grounds that they were made “illegally” by Kuchma’s then bodyguard, Mykola Melnychenko. Kuchma, who was president from 1994 to 2005, did not know he was being recorded.
Deputy attorney general Renat Kuzmin nonetheless said that there were other charges pending against Kuchma and that the case was not closed.
The prosecutor’s office began investigating Kuchma on 22 March on the basis of the recordings provided by Melnychenko, in which a voice that sounds like Kuchma’s can he heard saying he wanted to be rid of Gongadze.
22.03.2011 Former president to be investigated in connection with journalist’s murder
Reporters Without Borders welcomes today’s announcement by the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office that it has opened a criminal investigation into the role that former President Leonid Kuchma may have played in the September 2000 murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
It is the first time that the prosecutor’s office has decided to consider tape-recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnichenko as evidence. In the recordings, a voice resembling Kuchma’s can be heard referring to the need to get rid of Gongadze.
Deputy prosecutor-general Renat Kuzmin announced today that Kuchma is being investigated for suspected “abuse of authority” and “illegal orders to interior ministry officials that resulted in [Gongadze’s] death.” Kuchma has been forbidden to leave the country until the investigation has been completed.
“We hail the fact that a leading figure is finally being investigated in connection with this case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Now that they are on the right road, the judicial authorities should not stop there as the names of several other senior officials have been mentioned in connection with the Melnichenko recordings. Should this investigation be taken as a sign that there is finally a real desire to shed light on Gongadze’s death? We hope so.”
“But we have every reason to remain extremely cautious about a case that has seen so many contradictory developments in the past 10 years. The latest example was on 3 March, when a court upheld a decision to downgrade the definition of Gongadze’s death from ‘commissioned murder’ to a less serious one implicating only a now-dead official. Today’s announcement has not dispelled our doubts about judicial independence in this case.”
Reporters Without Borders will continue to follow developments closely. It would be completely intolerable if this new investigation were to lead into another dead end, or if it were to be carried out hastily with the sole aim of absolving former senior officials.