Ukraine’s ex-president charged over murder
Ukrainian prosecutors have formally charged Leonid Kuchma, the nation’s former president, in connection with the 2000 murder of a journalist.
Prosecutors refused to say, however, whether Mr Kuchma will be accused of ordering the murder of Georgy Gongadze, which has haunted Ukraine for decade, or with playing an indirect role in his death.
“Investigators have today charged Kuchma ... on exceeding authority, which led to the death of Mr Gongadze, ” Yuriy Boychenko, a spokesperson for the prosecutor’s office, told the Financial Times.
“This is the preliminary charge. Further investigation is ahead. It is too early to say what the final charges will be, ” he added.
President from 1994-2005, Mr Kuchma, along with senior officials in his administration, has long been accused of being involved in Mr Gongadze’s abduction and brutal murder. Many observers in and outside Ukraine have accused the authorities of conducting a cover-up.
Prosecutors announced on Tuesday, for the first time in the investigation, that Mr Kuchma was a suspect in the case.
Critics said investigators under Viktor Yanukovich, Ukraine’s president, who rose up the political ranks under Mr Kuchma, are bringing the charges with no intention of obtaining a conviction. Mr Kuchma has repeatedly denied involvement in the murder of Mr Gongadze, whose reporting was highly critical of the former president.
“I have been charged, ” Mr Kuchma said on Thursday as he emerged from Ukraine’s prosecutor’s office, where he was questioned for a second day in a row. Asked what the charges entailed, he said: “I have not read [the charges] from the beginning to the end.”
Investigators said last year they had amassed evidence to link former high-ranking law enforcement officials in Mr Kuchma’s administration to the murder, including an ex-interior minister who was found dead in 2005 with two gunshot wounds to the head. Mr Kuchma was allegedly implicated in the murder by secret audio recordings by a presidential bodyguard.
A senior prosecutor said on Tuesday that the recordings were considered “material evidence.”
Three police officers were convicted in 2008 of taking part in Mr Gongadze’s murder. A court granted them reduced 12- to 13-year prison terms in return for their co-operation.
Investigators said they were now trying to prove which senior officials may have given orders to carry out the crime.
If he is charged with ordering the murder or complicity, Mr Kuchma would be one of only very few rulers of former Soviet republics to stand trial in a region where authoritarian and corrupt leadership is common.
The Gongadze case comes amid mounting domestic and international pressure on Ukraine to solve a long list of unsolved crimes allegedly involving senior officials.
Ordinary citizens and investors say the nation’s political and business elite too often benefit from impunity and are rarely punished for widespread corruption and cronyism.