Ukraine Gongadze case: Court convicts journalist's killer

Jan 29, 2013 - 0 Comments

Jan. 29, 2013 BBC

A Ukrainian court has convicted a former police chief of murdering journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000, a crime which rocked the country.

The court in Kiev found that Olexiy Pukach had killed the journalist, then cut off his head. It sentenced Pukach to life imprisonment.

Pukach confessed but said he had acted on the orders of the late Interior Minister, Yuri Kravchenko.

The murder sparked protests against the president at the time, Leonid Kuchma.

An attempt to prosecute Mr Kuchma for ordering the killing collapsed in December 2011 when a judge ruled that secret audio recordings which apparently incriminated him could not be used as evidence, as they had been obtained through "illegal means".

Mr Kuchma has always denied involvement in the journalist's murder.

A few months before his death, Georgy Gongadze founded the news website Ukrainskaya Pravda, which was sharply critical of the Kuchma presidency.

Georgy Gongadze (undated family photo)While serving as head of the Ukrainian interior ministry's external surveillance service, Pukach tracked Gongadze, the court found.

Pukach testified that he had accidentally strangled the journalist with a belt while interrogating him about possible links to foreign states in September 2000.

He further admitted severing Gongadze's head from his body, which was found in woodland in the Kiev area later that year. Part of the skull was found in 2009.

Arrested in 2009, Pukach confessed to the killing at an early stage, saying he had used an axe to behead the journalist.

A lawyer for Pukach said the defence would appeal against the court's judgment, the Russian news agency Interfax reports.

Three officials from Pukach's department are already serving jail terms for their part in the murder.

Kravchenko was found dead with gunshot wounds in 2005, in what was officially described as a suicide, just as he was about to be questioned.

Questions have been asked about how he managed to shoot himself twice in the head.

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