Monday, February 28, 2005

Witness in Gongadze Kidnapping Wounded in Attack After Police Say They Identified Abductors

KIEV, Ukraine -- A key witness in the abduction and killing of a prominent opposition journalist has been wounded in a grenade explosion shortly after police said they had identified the perpetrators of one of Ukraine's most politically charged crimes, news reports said Feb. 28. Georgy Gongadze, a prominent Internet journalist who wrote about top-level corruption, was abducted in downtown Kyiv in September 2000. His decapitated body was later found buried in a forest.

Inna Kysel, a spokeswoman for the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, said late Sunday that investigators had identified people "who dragged Gongadze into the car."

"We have the vehicle as well," she said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

The report offered no further details and Kysel was not available for comment Feb. 28.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian media reported that a witness in the Gongadze case and a police officer who was escorting him were seriously wounded in Kyiv on Feb. 27, hours after the police announcement, when an unidentified assailant tossed a hand grenade at them. Kyiv's TV5 television identified the witness as Yury Nesterov.

Ihor Honcharov, a former police officer and a key witness in the Gongadze case who died in prison two years ago, claimed in a letter published last year by Ukrainian media that Nesterov "helped two agents of Kyiv's police bureau for fighting organized crime to kidnap, torture and kill Gongadze" in a warehouse in Kyiv's Moskovsky district.

Ukrainian media reported extensively last year that the former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko ordered agents to follow Gongadze shortly before his abduction.

In June, Ukrainian prosecutors announced that a suspect had admitted beheading Gongadze, but they provided no other details.

Gongadze's death touched off months of violent protests against then-President Leonid Kuchma, whom the opposition alleged was involved in the killing. Kuchma denies the allegations.

"Police want to find not only who were the executors, but also those who masterminded this crime. It might be difficult but we will find them," Kysel said.

Ukraine's new president, Viktor Yushchenko, recently promised Gongadze's mother that solving the case was a "point of honor" for him.

Last year, a parliamentary committee recommended criminal proceedings against Kuchma as the likely suspect in masterminding Gongadze's death.

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