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Preliminary hearing begins in Gongadze murder case

The Kiev Court of Appeal on Monday will launch a preliminary hearing in the case of murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze, agency ITAR-TASS has reported.

Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko had announced in March that the crime had been solved. He also said then that the murderers had detained and interrogated. Yushchenko set the task to "find the mastermind and contractor of the assassination." He criticised the old Ukrainian authorities that "lacked political will for the solution of the Gongadze murder." "Moreover, they were a cover-up for murderers," he stressed.

"This is a very important step in bringing to justice those responsible for the murder of our colleague Georgy Gongadze," Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) Executive Director Ann Cooper said. "Yet much work remains. We urge Ukrainian authorities not to shy away from an aggressive pursuit of every lead–no matter how high a level it may reach."

The European Court of Human Rights on November 8 found the Ukrainian government liable for 100,000 euros in damages in a lawsuit filed by the widow of Gongadze. The court ruled that Ukrainian authorities had failed in their duty to protect the life of the 31-year-old editor of the independent news website Ukrainska Pravda; failed to thoroughly investigate his death by limiting their probe; and treated his widow Myroslava Gongadze in a degrading manner by not giving her access to materials in the case and by issuing contradictory statements.

The European court, based in Strasbourg, France, has authority to review the actions of domestic courts, issue findings and recommendations, and levy monetary sanctions.

Gongadze filed the lawsuit in September 2002, and the court agreed on March 31 to hear the case. President Yushchenko’s administration offered Gongadze a settlement of 100,000 euros in exchange for her withdrawing her claim, but Gongadze declined, saying she hoped a court ruling could set a precedent in protecting Ukrainian citizens.

"By filing this lawsuit, I wanted to urge Ukrainian authorities to fully investigate my husband’s murder and punish organisers and perpetrators of this crime," Gongadze had told ITAR-TASS, according to CPJ. She added that authorities had hampered the investigation "with their deliberate actions or criminal inertia."

In its ruling, the court noted that while Gongadze’s decapitated body was found in November 2000, Myroslava Gongadze was not given confirmation that it was her husband until March 2003. "In the meantime," the court said, "she had received numerous contradictory statements from the authorities about his fate. ... [Authorities] constantly refused to grant her full access to the relevant materials in the case file. Only in August 2005 was she allowed access to the file." Thus, the authorities’ behaviour with regards to Myroslava Gongadze, amounted to degrading treatment

The court also ruled that investigators looking into the murder "seemed to limit the case to prosecution of the direct offenders, and not those who ordered and organized it."

Most of the government actions cited in the court ruling date to the authoritarian regime of former President Leonid Kuchma. Elected in December 2004, Yushchenko took office in January and said that solving Gongadze’s murder would be a priority for his administration.

Yushchenko’s election did reignite the long-stalled probe. Investigators detained two police officers on March 1. Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko was found dead three days later–his death termed a suicide–just hours before he was scheduled to undergo a sworn interview with investigators. On audiotapes made secretly by a former presidential bodyguard, Kuchma is allegedly heard to ask Kravchenko to get rid of Gongadze; Kravchenko allegedly replied that he would take care of the matter.

On August 1, the prosecutor general’s office announced that it had completed the first phase of its investigation and had identified three suspects: police officers Nikolai Protasov and Valery Kostenko, and Gen Aleksandr Pukach, former head of the Interior Ministry’s criminal investigation department. Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun said authorities would continue to seek those responsible for ordering the murder.

The next month, a parliamentary commission investigating the case accused Kuchma, the late Kravchenko, Parliament Speaker Vladimir Litvin, and former Ukrainian Security Services chief Leonid Derkach of plotting the editor’s murder. The commission recommended that the prosecutor general open criminal cases against Kuchma, Litvin, and Derkach. The commission, which dissolved after its sensational September 20 announcement, had no judicial authority and prosecutors were not bound to act upon its findings. On October 14, Yushchenko fired prosecutor Piskun. His office said Piskun had dragged out important investigations for too long, according to press reports. On November 18, a court ordered Piskun's reinstatement.

Date posted: December 19, 2005 Date modified: May 23, 2018 Total views: 7