(AFP) – Jul 22, 2009
KIEV — A former senior figure in Ukraine's interior ministry has confessed to the murder in 2000 of journalist Georgy Gongadze and implicated high-ranking state officials, authorities said Wednesday.
Asked by reporters if the suspect, arrested on Tuesday, had confessed and if he implicated senior Ukrainian officials in the killing, Vassyl Grytsak, deputy head of the SBU domestic security agency, answered "yes" to both questions.
"He confirmed his involvement in this crime," Grytsak said at a news conference to announce the arrest.
The suspect, Olexy Pukach, was a top Ukrainian interior ministry official at the time of Gongadze's murder.
Footage presented as a videotape of Pukach's arrest was shown at the news conference.
In it, a corpulent, suntanned man with gray hair purported to be Pukach was apprehended by SBU agents and asked what his relationship was to the Gongadze case.
He responded with one word: "Direct."
Gongadze, an outspoken critic of the government of then-president Leonid Kuchma, was kidnapped on September 16, 2000. His decapitated body was found near Kiev two weeks later.
The murder, branded instantly by Kuchma critics as a political assassination, rocked Ukraine and also triggered an international uproar.
Asked if Pukach had participated himself in the murder, Grytsak replied: "Yes."
The suspect however did not immediately explain the motive of the killing and told the SBU agents that some of those behind the murder "are already dead" themselves.
President Viktor Yushchenko, who came to power in 2004 on the back of a popular uprising against the claim of victory in presidential elections by Kuchma's preferred successor, has long vowed to solve the case.
But the affair remains murky despite Wednesday's announcement, which did not resolve whether Kuchma had any role in, or knowledge of, Gongadze's murder.
Investigators said Pukach is believed personally to have strangled Gongadze, who was 31 when he was killed. Grytsak said he had agreed to show them the location of Gongadze's severed head, which was never found.
Grytsak also said Pukach put up no resistance when the SBU agents arrested him, saying instead: "I have been waiting for you since the beginning."
Yushchenko -- who suffered near-fatal poisoning himself on the eve of 2004 elections, with that enquiry at a dead end -- has charged that the former regime had shown no desire to solve the murder and "protected the killer."
Those who accuse Kuchma of involvement in the killing point to about 700 hours of recordings said to have been made in secret in his office by a former presidential bodyguard, Mykola Melnichenko.
In the recordings, a voice resembling Kuchma's -- though never independently confirmed to be his voice -- says that the journalist should be kidnapped by Chechens or taken somewhere and "stripped naked".
The bodyguard, who fled to the United States shortly after releasing the tapes six years ago, later returned to Kiev to answer prosecutors' questions on the killing.
A parliamentary commission subsequently ruled the recordings' authenticity could not be proved.
While the evidence was ruled inadmissible, the commission nevertheless implicated Kuchma, although the former president has always denied any involvement in, or knowledge of, the circumstances surrounding the death.
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