Top suspect in journalist’s death blames Ukrainian ex-president

A former Ukrainian police general, and the main suspect in the high profile case of a journalist’s murder, has said that former President Kuchma ordered the hit.

Ukrainian media has reported that Aleksey Pukach, the main suspect in the murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000, has pleaded guilty to the charges filed against him. Pukach, however, said he acted on the orders of Leonid Kuchma, who was Ukrainian President at that time, as well as the head of the presidential administration Vladimir Litvin, who currently chairs the Ukrainian Parliament.

Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, who committed suicide in 2005, was also singled out by the murder suspect.

Despite the high-profile court case being closed to the press, Ukrainian media quoted Aleksey Podolskiy, a plaintiff in the case, as saying that the former police general told the court that he killed Gongadze with his own hands.

“Pukach said that Georgiy [Gongadze] and his close colleague from the Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper, Alyona Pritula were CIA agents and they had a mission to prevent at any cost Kuchma from becoming president,” Podolskiy said. “Thus, by killing Gongadze on direct orders from Kravchenko he, Pukach, prevented a coup d’état and saved Ukraine,” he added.

The plaintiff stressed that he (Pukach) did not intend to kill the journalist, but strangled him after he said that he would continue to criticize the authorities. He added that Pukach told the court that after the murder he went to the Interior Minister to report the killing.

Minister Kravchenko listened to him together with the head of the presidential administration Litvin and two deputy ministers. Kravchenko told Litvin that Pukach had carried out the murder and said that they all were loyal to the president and ready to follow any order. “And Litvin was nodding his head as this was said,” Pukach said, according to the report.

Ukrainian prosecutors instigated a criminal case against ex-president Kuchma over Gongadze’s murder in March, but Kuchma vehemently denies the charges. Meanwhile, the evidence linking Kuchma to the murder has been described as unconvincing. An audio tape was made in his office before the killing, and in the recording Kuchma is heard telling his aides to “sort Gongadze out,” but never directly orders the reporter to be killed.

The authenticity of the tapes, provided by former Kuchma’s bodyguard, has been questioned, but the current position of the Ukrainian courts is that the record is authentic.

Kuchma’s defense lawyer Viktor Petrunenko told reporters on Wednesday that Pukach’s court statements consisted of false accusations and slander.

He said that these statements were part of Pukach’s defense tactics, adding that since the suspect is facing life sentence he could suggest anything to justify himself. The lawyer added that he was not planning to undertake any legal action in connection with Pukach’s statements.

“We will start studying the case in the nearest future and I hope that the case will be closed at the pre-trial investigation stage,” Petrunenko said.

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