Another criminal-political sensation took place in Ukraine. Former President Leonid Kuchma has arrived in the Prosecutor's Office for questioning on the sensational murder of the chief editor of "Ukrainian Truth" Georgiy Gongadze. A criminal case has been initiated against the former president.
"Gongadze case" was the largest in the history of independent Ukraine. The journalist who wrote revealing articles about corruption in the highest echelons of the government has disappeared in September of 2000. In November his decapitated body was found in a forest near Kiev. Soon the leader of the oppositional Socialist Party Oleksandr Moroz made public the records that might have been made by Kuchma's bodyguard Mykola Melnichenko. In the records a voice similar to Kuchma's was demanding to deal with Gongadze.
The expertise of the body lasted three years, during which time Gongadze had become a symbol of the opposition. Moroz, Tymoshenko, and later Victor Yushchenko in 2001-2002 used portraits of the journalist in their rallies "Ukraine without Kuchma" and "Rise, Ukraine!". Major Melnichenko has fled to the U.S., where he told that it was the second president and his entourage who decided to kill the journalist.
General Prosecutor's Office announced that the case has been solved before the Orange Revolution. However, after the Maidan the case has taken a new impetus. The name of the former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko who died under mysterious circumstances was among the main initiators of the crime. Two performers seemed to have been detained, one was under travel restrictions. A former general in the Interior Ministry Aleksei Pukach, who was once detained but later released, was put on the international arrest warrant.
The political games started all over. Viktor Yushchenko who came to power has vowed to pursue the case. On March 10, 2005 Kuchma was first questioned under the case. In April Melnichenko's secret records that were miraculously stored by the fugitive Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky have arrived to Kiev. They were attached to the case. In August of the same year the completion of the investigation was announced, in December the trial has begun. Witnesses claimed that General Pukach personally strangled Gongadze.
Meanwhile, new versions of the case have developed. Berezovsky's associate Alexander Goldfarb argued that Oleksandr Moroz and Russian businessman Mikhail Fridman could have been the initiators of the murder of the journalist. Allegedly Moroz, who was dreaming about overthrowing Kuchma, has discussed with Friedman the details of compromising the second president of the country through Gongadze. In Ukraine there was also a theory that the murder could involve the present Speaker of the Verkhovna Rada, the former chief of Kuchma's staff Volodymyr Lytvyn.
However, the theories of the involvement of prominent politicians have only remained theories. Gongadze's relatives in 2006 made it clear that they did not trust the investigation. In 2008, three subordinates of Pukach were found guilty of murder, a year later Pukach was brought to Ukraine. However, the investigation has failed to find all the details. Major Melnichenko kept revealing the details. President Yushchenko did not fulfill his promise to close the case.
Kuchma's associate Viktor Yanukovych who held the post of prime minister during his office for two years, has been the head of the country for over a year now. The other day things took a completely unexpected turn. The Ukrainian media flashed the information that a criminal case has been initiated against Kuchma in connection with the murder of Gongadze. It turned out this information was correct. Kuchma is indeed suspected of giving illegal orders that led to the death of a journalist. The ex-president had to follow travel restriction.
In the morning of March 23 Kuchma has arrived for questioning by the Prosecutor General's Office. Before entering the building, he said that he had nothing to fear. "I am absolutely calm, exactly five years ago I said that this (the accusations) was a monstrous provocation against Ukraine. I still stand by that position," said the former president, exuding confidence.
Why has the "Gongadze case" surfaced again? Why Kuchma, who seemed to be considered an ideological ally of Yanukovych, was charged? Ukrainian political analysts Mikhail Pogrebinsky and Vladimir Skachko shared their theories in an interview with Pravda.ru.
Mikhail Pogrebinsky, director of the Kiev Center for Political and Conflict Studies:
"There are many theories, both believable, and not so much so. Most likely, this is a logical conclusion of a prominent case which has been dragging for over ten years. However, in all likelihood it will not be enough to convict Kuchma so he gets real jail time. His defenders may claim that the evidence of his guilt is not sufficient, or that the statute of limitations has passed.
In the current process it is important for Yanukovych to look like a consistent, impartial president. He wants to show that everyone is equal, and not only the opposition are persecuted. Even Kuchma himself is not immune from visits to the General Prosecutor's Office and interrogations.
Vladimir Skachko, an independent political analyst, editor in chief of "Kiev Telegraph":
"There can be only one real explanation as to why the current process has started. For the Party of Regions today it is very important to divert people's attention from the true state of affairs and from the fact that it is not fulfilling its election promises. From the fact that the economy is heading downhill. From the fact that its ranking has significantly lowered.
The whole point is that the "Gongadze case" is the most publicized in the history of independent Ukraine. It is followed by journalists, Western-organizations, everyone wants for it to close quickly. This is why the "Gongadze case" was taken to the surface, and the suspect is a very public figure. The most successful Ukrainian president is personally sent for questioning to the Prosecutor General's Office.
However, there are no chances to put Kuchma in jail, and he is well aware of it. It would be very interesting to observe the interrogation of the politician who, against the background of his successors, seems to be a political Gulliver. The economy was growing and stable when he was in office. Under his successor the population has decreased by three million people, while the economy is crumbling. In general, all this reminds prosecutor feast during the plague."