RWB: Investigation into editor’s disappearance must not be repeat of Gongadze case
Reporters without Borders reiterates its concern about the disappearance of Vasyl Klymentyev. the editor of a regional investigative weekly based in the northeastern city of Kharkiv. The subsequent disappearance of a police officer who was a potential witness and the harassment of his wife and lawyer have reinforced suspicions that he was murdered because he had damaging information about certain prominent figures in the Kharkiv region.
Ukraine attorney general Alexandre Medvedko yesterday said the case was being treated as murder and that for the time being it was being handled by the interior ministry. But he added: “We will take over the case if it is confirmed that it was a murder and if a link with the police is established.”
“In view of the latest developments, we fear that no link between Klymentyev’s disappearance and the police will be established as long as the interior ministry is in charge of the case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We therefore strongly urge the Ukrainian authorities to transfer the case without to delay to an entity such as the attorney general’s office which is independent of the local police.”
Reporters Without Borders hopes that this case will not bog down in the same way as the investigation into opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze’s September 2000 murder. The attorney general yesterday said the Gongadze investigation has just suffered another delay because of a forensic report that took “longer than expected.” The press freedom organisation continues to follow the case closely.
Pietro Matviyenko, the deputy editor or Klymentyev’s magazine, Novyy Styl, told journalists earlier this week that Andriy Kozyr, the police officer who took Klymentyev to the Pechenizke water reservoir to photograph properties owned by regional director of taxes Stanislav Denysyuk and three other local officials, including a former member of the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), is himself now missing.
Klymentyev’s mobile phone and keys were found in a boat adrift on the reservoir a few days after he was last seen on the morning of 11 August.
The apartment of Klymentyev’s lawyer, Vyasheslav Izmailov, was searched on 2 September by police officers and members of the local special forces, who forced the door to get in. They claimed to have a court warrant but did not produce it. Izmailov told the Ukrainskaya Pravda newspaper he was convinced the aim of the raid was to remove documents relating to the Klymentyev case although the police claimed that it was to do with another case.
The local authorities prevented Klymentyev’s partner, Valentina Udovenko, from leaving Kharkiv on 4 September to attend a news conference in Kiev about his disappearance. The grounds for keeping her in Kharkiv was a tax department “inspection” of her business which happened to have been scheduled at the last moment for that day.
The media freedom NGO Telekritika quoted the Kharkiv regional governor as saying on 7 September that he thought Klymentyev would be found soon. Referring to the regional director of taxes, the governor reportedly added: “Denysyuk had been a client of Klymentyev’s for more than 10 years. I know that some people paid Klymentyev every month so that he would not write about them.”
These are astonishing comments, given that Klymentyev was investigating alleged abuse of authority by Denysyuk at the time of his disappearance and that, according to many sources, Klymentyev had repeatedly refused to take bribes from local personalities to drop stories about them.Deputy interior minister Leonid Zyma meanwhile said the chances of finding Klymentyev alive were “approaching zero.” He said investigators had considered a dozen hypotheses, of which the main one was that he was killed in connection with his work. “His articles criticised the security forces and local authorities; he was probably kidnapped.” He said. Zyma added that that most probable scenario was that