Ukraine Gongadze case: Court convicts journalist's killer

Olexiy Pukach in court in Kiev, 29 January Olexiy Pukach is a former police general

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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.

Analysis

Tuesday's verdict brings closure neither to the Gongadze family, nor to Ukraine. Too many questions remain unanswered.

In his final remarks in the courtroom, Gen Pukach claimed Leonid Kuchma should have also been in the dock. Yet his name did not feature in the trial.

Pukach claims the murder was ordered by Mr Kuchma's Interior Minister, Yuriy Kravchenko. Conveniently for all involved, Mr Kravchenko "committed suicide" in 2005. He was buried with state honours. But the question about how he shot himself twice in the head remains unanswered.

For Ukraine, the Gongadze murder became a catalyst for widespread social unrest in 2001 and eventually led to the Orange Revolution of 2004.

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.

Testimony

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.

Georgy Gongadze (undated family photo) Georgy Gongadze is seen here in an undated family photo

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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