Reporters Without Borders said it welcomes Tuesday’s announcement by the Ukrainian prosecutor’s office that it has opened a criminal investigation into the role that former President Leonid Kuchma may have played in the September 2000 murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze.
It is the first time that the prosecutor’s office has decided to consider tape-recordings made by former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnichenko as evidence. In the recordings, a voice resembling Kuchma’s can be heard referring to the need to get rid of Gongadze.
Deputy prosecutor-general Renat Kuzmin announced Tuesday that Kuchma is being investigated for suspected “abuse of authority” and “illegal orders to interior ministry officials that resulted in [Gongadze’s] death.” Kuchma has been forbidden to leave the country until the investigation has been completed.
“We hail the fact that a leading figure is finally being investigated in connection with this case,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Now that they are on the right road, the judicial authorities should not stop there as the names of several other senior officials have been mentioned in connection with the Melnichenko recordings. Should this investigation be taken as a sign that there is finally a real desire to shed light on Gongadze’s death? We hope so.”
“But we have every reason to remain extremely cautious about a case that has seen so many contradictory developments in the past 10 years. The latest example was on 3 March, when a court upheld a decision to downgrade the definition of Gongadze’s death from ‘commissioned murder’ to a less serious one implicating only a now-dead official. Today’s announcement has not dispelled our doubts about judicial independence in this case.”
Reporters Without Borders said it will continue to follow developments closely. It would be completely intolerable if this new investigation were to lead into another dead end, or if it were to be carried out hastily with the sole aim of absolving former senior officials.