KyivPost

Court clears Kuchma of Gongadze murder charges

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Dec. 14, 2011, 2:05 p.m. | Politics — by Kyiv Post Staff

This combo image shows Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma (L) in 2004 and journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000.
© AFP PHOTO/FILES

Kyiv Post Staff

Kyiv’s Pechersk district court on Dec. 14 ordered prosecutors to drop criminal charges against ex-President Leonid Kuchma on grounds that evidence linking him to the Sept. 16, 2000, murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze was insufficient. Critics said the ruling amounts to the latest episode of whitewashing in the 11-year old criminal investigation which has been plagued by cover-ups and continues to haunt Ukraine.

In a surprise announcement, prosecutors last March said for the first time that Kuchma was a suspect in the Gongadze murder case. He was formally charged with exceeding his authority as president in giving an order that led to the journalist’s murder.

Hopes for justice in the case, long seen as a litmus test of Ukraine’s dedication to rule of law, have evaporated with the Dec. 14 court ruling, critics say.

Secretly made audio recordings of conversations in the presidential office made by renegade former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko appear to implicate Kuchma in the Gongadze murder. But the court on Dec. 14 ruled they are inadmissible as evidence because they were illegally produced.

Ruling Ukraine with authoritarian powers from 1994-2005 and now 73, Kuchma has relentlessly denied involvement in the murder of the journalist, whose reports were notoriously critical of authorities.

However, other evidence also seems to implicate Kuchma in a chain of events leading to Gongadze’s murder.

That evidence includes reported testimony by police Gen. Oleksiy Pukach, being tried secretly for the murder, clearly implicating Kuchma and other top officials. Prosecutors themselves concluded that Kuchma’s confidante, former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, was among the officials who gave the order to Pukach. Pukach has reportedly confessed to the crime; three of his subordinate police officers are serving prison sentences for the crime. Kravchenko died from two gunshot wounds to the head on March 4, 2005, the day he was supposed to testify.

“The ruling is illegal; we will appeal it,” said Valentyna Telychenko, a lawyers representing Gongadze’s widow. “But let there be no illusions now. There is no political will to solve this case, to prosecute those that masterminded the murder and cover-ups.”

Prosecutors also said they would appeal the ruling, but their resolve in prosecuting Kuchma to the fullest of the laws has been questioned. After charging Kuchma, the case made no visible progress. Instead, prosecutors last summer turned their attention to Melnychenko. The former bodyguard faces treason charges and an arrest warrant has been issued after prosecutors said he fled Ukraine. Melnychenko’s whereabouts are not clear.

Opposition politicians and human rights activists have long questioned the political resolve of Ukraine’s elite to prosecute top officials who may have given orders to kill Gongadze. Pointing to years of cover-ups in this and other alleged corruption cases, observers allege the nation’s influential officials continue to rule with impunity from justice and prosecution.

“There was a lot to look into, but they simply closed the case,” said Yevhen Zakharov, a Ukrainian human rights advocate.

Kuchma may not have ordered the crime; he could have been set up, according to Zakharov. But the handling of the trial nonetheless shows that Ukraine’s “judiciary is very dependent [on the political authorities], not impartial” in cases involving influential officials.

“This shows that ex-state officials can escape justice,” Zakharov added.

President Viktor Yanukovych has pledged to crack down on widespread corruption. But two years into his tenure, corruption has increased by the accounts of leading international indexes and studies. Moreover, his administration is increasingly being accused by the European Union and U.S. of persecuting political rivals, starting with opposition leader Yulia Tymoshenko. She was on Oct. 11 sentenced to seven years in prison on charges seen as trumped up.

In a Kyiv Post interview before hear arrest, Tymoshenko said that Kuchma should stand trial for his role in the Gongadze murder, pointing to the Melnychenko tape and other evidence. But she predicted that the charges launched by prosecutors against him were merely “window-dressing,” an attempt by Yanukovych, in her words, to demonstrate that he was not selectively prosecuting former top officials.

Tymoshenko predicted that Kuchma would under Yanukovych be cleared of any wrongdoing. Yanukovych has repeatedly insisted that Ukraine's courts and prosecutors are independent.

Citing rollbacks on the democratic front and a culture of impunity for influential officials, U.S.-based democracy watchdog Freedom House warned this year that Ukraine is sliding deeper into authoritarianism and kleptocracy.
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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 2:15 p.m.    

What a disgrace! Then who was behind the actions of the currently imprisoned 3 militia offers? Who was behind the actions of Pukach and why did he hide from prosecution if no orders to kill were ever given? Why did Kuchma's Militia Minister commit suicide by shooting himself in the head twice a day before he was to testify against Kuchma?

Ukraine's courts are a shameless disgrace and nobody in this country is guaranteed justice! Unless they of course have millions of Euros or dollars to pay off court officials and prosecutors!

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 2:40 p.m.    

And some think Ukraine should join the EU. Anther example of the abuses of the Presidential system. It is time to remove presidential power and with it the ongoing misuse and abuse.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 10:53 p.m.    

Yes that would address many of the flaws in the Ukrainian system

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 3:30 p.m.    

Thank God Koochma was not a political opponent, because then he would be guilty even if there was no evidence. Ukraine's political justice system creates another joke for the world to look and laugh at. This country deserves to fail and have sanctions because Ukraine is no different than Iran or Belarus.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 3:38 p.m.    

An unpopular decision but the correct one.A conviction would be overturned on appeal given the evidence now available.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 10:52 p.m.    

The evidence was not solid. Certainly not on the basis of the alleged telephone call. We do not know what evidence was given behind closed doors

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 4:26 p.m.    

My original comment seems to have been deleted so I'll post it again. The government has accomplished their goals of putting fear into Kuchma and others with dirty secrets. they also were trying to show the world that they would prosecute their own kind, i.e. that there was some balance. Since people were not taken in by that; they have now decided to free Kuchma (although actually I don't think he was ever held in pre-trial detention, unlike Lutsenko who was not accused of murder but of paying his chauffer too high a pension!).

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 10:50 p.m.    

your obviously not inform sand just speculating as` usual. you should express your words more carefully,

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Anonymous Dec. 15, 2011, 5:43 a.m.    

I would say that it is more of a show to let the world see that Ukraine is 'really trying' to persecute crimes of those committed by high-level political figures. Lip-service to justice, a play put on to appease the world that is saying Ukraine is not doing enough to stop corruption and government from abusing its power and controlling the media and courts.

As for putting fear into Kuchma: given that he is the foundation on which Yanukovich stands on, knocking him out (i.e.: showing beyond a doubt that he is guilty of crime) is not good for the overall image of the PoR or for Yanukovich. Kuchma never really had anything to fear, and now that the show is over, he can fade back into the shadows while &quot;more pressing matters&quot; (Tymoshenko) crowd him out of memory.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 5:42 p.m.    

Is this the same court that sentenced Yulia? How is this possible?

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 10:48 p.m.    

It's the main criminal court. Nothing strange about that.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 8:03 p.m.    

Killing is no crime in Ukraine, just like stealing and corruption.

But the EU can wait 300 years more;-)

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 8:18 p.m.    

So, what else is new?

Is this not a bit of show and tell, when everyone with a functioning brain knows that this thug is guilty?

How is this possible to declare him not guilty because of &quot;insufficient evidence,&quot; when Tymoshenko is found guilty of every trumpted-up crime that the other thug can manufacture, and she is now being held indefinitely, and declared not sick when she cannot walk?

What is seriously wrong in Ukraine is that people allow this criminal to even exist, and to allow the criminal government of an uneducated fool--whose so-called academic credentials are as substantial as cotton candy--to go on one one day longer.

Ukraine has no credibility with anyone except Israel.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 9:14 p.m.    

If you think Tymoshenko is being ganged up on now, watch it get worse with this trial out of the way.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 8:21 p.m.    

Everyone knows Gongadze killed himself and tried to frame poor innocent Kuchma

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 9:12 p.m.    

The Party of Pigs Judiciary! Apparently Gongadze committed suicide by cutting off his own head.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 10:36 p.m.    

Down with Kuchma!

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 11:03 p.m.    

What do you expect. Name one president who has provided good governance. The presidential system is not democracy, its is autocracy. As long as Ukraine remains beholden to presidential rule it will never be a free independent democratic state. The President is the only one who has absolute immunity. Why do you think Yushchenko has never been charged for misuse and abuse of office? he put them in power.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 10:42 p.m.    

this court must be jailed together with killer kuchma

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 10:58 p.m.    

Freedom House is a rather amateurish organization that is yet again anther front for the CIA. Has anyone taken the time to actually read their reports. Not well written, very studentish in its structure. An excuse for a few reject diplomats or Peace corps has beens to get work.

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Anonymous Dec. 15, 2011, 5:49 a.m.    

Everything is a CIA front, except those that are FSB fronts. But what if the FSB is fronting an organization that is pretending to be fronted by the CIA and sending out poorly written, studentish reports and hiring rejected diplomats and Peace Corps has beens in order to discredit the CIA? ITS A BIG CONSPIRACY!

But I agree, Freedom House could do better.

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Anonymous Dec. 14, 2011, 11:07 p.m.    

However, other evidence also seems to implicate Kuchma in a chain of events leading to Gongadze’s murder.

That evidence includes reported testimony by police Gen. Oleksiy Pukach, being tried secretly for the murder, clearly implicating Kuchma and other top officials. Prosecutors themselves concluded that Kuchma’s confidante, former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, was among the officials who gave the order to Pukach. Pukach has reportedly confessed to the crime; three of his subordinate police officers are serving prison sentences for the crime. Kravchenko died from two gunshot wounds to the head on March 4, 2005, the day he was supposed to testify

What was his evidence? The alleged tape recoding is certainly insufficient.

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Anonymous Dec. 15, 2011, 6:34 a.m.    

A discredited corrupt court aquits a discredited corrupt murderer. May he die a premature and miserable death.

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Anonymous Dec. 15, 2011, 9:01 a.m.    

Thank Christ he didn't give a bonus to his driver; then he'd have been royally buggered...

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Anonymous Dec. 15, 2011, 1:01 p.m.    

Sure, compared to really serious crimes, like paying pensions during the financial crisis, increasing health care accessibility in rural areas and ending a gas war with Russia, killing a journalist is nothing.

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Anonymous Dec. 15, 2011, 11:06 a.m.    

Now something for Mr Kiselyov to reflect on: has Kuchma been acquitted?

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