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додано: 20-06-2004
Askold Krushelnycky: Pressure piles on Ukrainian leader after leaks reveal attempts to cover up killing

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Leaked confidential documents prove senior government officials have tried to wreck investigations into the murder of a Ukrainian journalist, allegedly killed on the orders of the country's President, and that the cover-up involved the killing of a key witness while in custody.

The revelations will put further pressure on President Leonid Kuchma after a committee investigating the murder in September 2000 of the anti-government journalist Heorhiy Gongadze recommended criminal proceedings against him this week. Opposition MPs have also registered their intention to impeach the President.

"The committee has established the fact that the key organiser of illegal activities in the Gongadze case was the President of Ukraine," said Hryhoriy Omelchenko, a member of the opposition Our Ukraine party.

Gongadze, founder of an internet newspaper which accused Mr Kuchma and his close associates of corruption, was abducted on a street in the capital, Kiev. His headless corpse was discovered weeks later in woods outside the city.

Accusations of government involvement in the murder were brushed off for months, until a former bodyguard of Mr Kuchma fled the Ukraine and revealed he had secretly recorded hundreds of hours of the President's private conversations, including excerpts where an infuriated Mr Kuchma is apparently heard ordering that Gongadze be "taken care of". The recordings have been examined and accepted as authentic by independent experts.

Mr Kuchma maintains they are fakes and denies he ordered Gongadze's killing.

But many people have long been convinced that the murder was ordered by the President or close associates, but proof has always been lacking. However, leaked confidential documents in the possession of The Independent clearly indicate obstruction of the case at the highest levels. The documents include a secret autopsy on the body of a key witness who died in custody, showing he was injected with a drug called Thiopental.

They have been passed to The Independent by serving members of the Ukrainian law-enforcement authorities who are dismayed that their investigations, which pointed to high-level involvement in the murder, have been suppressed.

The whistleblowers say the country's previous prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Piskun, was close to bringing charges in the case when he was removed from his post last autumn. They say Mr Piskun's replacement, Hennadiy Vasilyev, appointed by Mr Kuchma, announced previous investigations had unearthed nothing and began to stifle further investigations.

He released from custody a top-ranking police official who the prosecutor-general's office was certain had destroyed important documents in the case and had possibly played a key role in organising the murder.

Many of the confidential documents are witness statements collected by investigators for the prosecutor-general's office. The people who handed them over say they fear that Mr Vasilyev may destroy the files as part of a cover-up process. They say they received threats during their investigations and fear for their own safety and that of their families if their identities are made public.

The documents show that Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVS) undercover police teams carried out surveillance on Gongadze for weeks until the time of his abduction on the orders of one of its top generals, Oleksiy Pukach. He in turn would have received his orders from the minister in charge of the MVS at the time, Yuriy Kravchenko, one of Mr Kuchma's closest associates.

One of the agents, Volodymyr Yaroshenko, said that about 25 people were involved in the surveillance teams, which used cars equipped with five sets of number plates. He and other agents state General Pukach ordered them to lie to investigators by saying there had been no operation against Gongadze.

Another agent, Hryhoriy Serhienko, said the surveillance was ordered by Mr Pukach and continued until Gongadze's disappearance on 16 September 2000. Mr Serhienko says on that day, General Pukach told him to forget that there had been any surveillance operation against Gongadze and to also forget he had ever heard of the journalist.

Mr Serhienko said that an MVS agent, Oleksander Muzyka, from the police department fighting organised crime, infiltrated a powerful Kiev crime family led by a man called Kisil. Mr Serhienko believes the final surveillance team watched Gongadze being abducted or themselves handed over the journalist to Kisil gang members, including Mr Myzyka, who murdered Gongadze.

Another MVS officer, Serhiy Chemenko, told investigators that the surveillance operation stopped on 17 September 2000, without any explanation. After news emerged about Gongadze's abduction and death, he and other MVS officers suspected their own organisation was involved in the sinister events.

An MVS captain, Vitaly Hordienko, said the surveillance, known in MVS jargon as an "Uliana", included gathering information about the layout of Gongadze's apartment and routes of approach and departure the journalist used. Mr Hordienko says records concerning the surveillance began disappearing within hours of Gongadze's abduction.

MVS staff, including a senior official, Anatoly Osypenko, and General Pukach's office manager, Lyudmyla Levchenko, said the general ordered the destruction, contrary to regulations, of records logging the teams watching Gongadze.

The Independent has copies of interrogations of a former senior MVS officer, Ihor Honcharov, who was in custody last year for working with racketeers. He also said the abduction and murder were by gangsters controlled by Kisil at the bidding of the MVS. He said Mr Kravchenko ordered Gongadze's killing on behalf of the President.

In his statements, he repeatedly expresses his fear he will be murdered and that the killing will be portrayed as suicide or illness. Only weeks later, on 1 August 2003, he died. The official version was that he died of illness and was quickly cremated.

But the autopsy and tests performed for the government by six experts show Honcharov was injected withThiopental, which the experts said probably led to death. Doctors have told The Independent that there would have been no legitimate medical reason to use the drug.

General Pukach was arrested on 23 October 2003 by prosecutor-general Piskun. Mr Piskun was removed from his post by Mr Kuchma on 29 October and replaced by Mr Vasylyev. General Pukach was released from custody the next month.

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