Europe

Ukraine Gongadze murder: Ex-President Kuchma charged

  • 24 March 2011
  • From the section Europe
Ukrainian ex-President Leonid Kuchma faces reporters in Kiev, 23 March
Mr Kuchma was questioned over two days

Ukrainian ex-President Leonid Kuchma has been charged with abuse of power over the 2000 murder of a journalist.

Confirming he had been charged, Mr Kuchma said he would be seeing prosecutors again on Monday.

Georgy Gongadze, a critic of Mr Kuchma, was found beheaded months after being abducted in September 2000, when Mr Kuchma was in power.

The ex-president earlier denied any part in his death. Prosecutors have banned him from leaving the country.

"I have been charged," Mr Kuchma said after emerging from a second day of questioning at the prosecutor general's office in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on Thursday.

A spokesman for prosecutors, Yury Boichenko, confirmed for reporters that Mr Kuchma had been charged with abuse of power under an article in the Ukrainian penal code from 1960.

Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin said on Tuesday that Mr Kuchma was suspected of abusing his official powers by giving orders to interior ministry officials that "eventually led to the journalist's killing".

Despite the charges, some analysts doubt Mr Kuchma's case will go to trial and, with 10 years having passed since the murder, some suggest he may benefit from the statute of limitations.

"This is for the court to decide - to invoke or not to invoke the statute of limitations," Mr Boichenko was quoted as saying by Russia's Interfax news agency.

Tape evidence

The murder of Gongadze sparked massive street protests against Mr Kuchma's government at the time.

Georgy Gongadze's headless body was found in a forest

Gongadze - founder of the Ukrainska Pravda (Ukrainian Truth) website - sought to expose high-level corruption.

Speaking on Wednesday, Mr Kuchma insisted the affair had been a "horrible provocation against Ukraine and its president".

Prosecutors have confirmed that controversial audio tapes secretly recorded in Mr Kuchma's office by one of his bodyguards while he was president will be recognised as valid evidence in the case.

On the tapes a voice resembling that of Mr Kuchma's suggests Gongadze should be "kidnapped by Chechens".

Mr Kuchma, in office from 1994 to 2005, has not denied it is his voice on the tapes but insists it was doctored to make him appear to say things he did not actually say.

In 2009, Ukrainian officials arrested former interior ministry official Olexiy Pukach, who later confessed to strangling Gongadze and then beheading him with an axe. He is still in custody, awaiting trial.

Three other officials are serving jail terms for their part in the killing.

Prosecutors earlier said that former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, now dead, had ordered Gongadze's killing.

Kravchenko is said to have committed suicide in 2005 - his body was found with two gunshot wounds to the head.

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