Ukrainian General Wanted for Journalist Murder Located in Israel

KIEV, Ukraine -- Gen Oleksiy Pukach, wanted on charges of murdering journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, has been located in Israel, a Ukrainian newspaper has said. It said that special Security Service and Interior Ministry groups rushed to Israel as soon as they learned the news, but extradition procedures are very complicated.

The following is the text of the article by Oleksandr Korchynskyy entitled "Gen Oleksiy Pukach found in Israel! SBU and Interior Ministry special groups are after him" published in the Ukrainian newspaper Segodnya on 23 June; the subheading is as published:

Segodnya learned that on Friday [17 June] sensational news came to Ukraine that Police Gen Oleksiy Pukach, who is on the international wanted list, has been discovered in Israel. We remind you that Pukach is sought by our country's law-enforcement agencies on charges of direct participation in the murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. Our paper, by the way, at one time expressed the theory that Pukach might be in hiding in Israel. And now, as far as we know, he has been found there by Israeli special services.

According to unconfirmed reports, they are just watching, not detaining him. Segodnya's sources reported that having received information about the stay of Pukach in Israel, a group of several SBU [Security Service of Ukraine] officers left for that country in haste on Saturday [18 June]. A day later, on the Sunday, a group of Interior Ministry staff left for the same destination (evidently they got the news later).

If it is going to be a question of the extradition of Pukach, then according to Ukrainian legislation, the Prosecutor-General's Office [PGO] is the only agency that can officially demand the return of the accused. However, our sources reported yesterday that neither the Interior Ministry nor the SBU told the PGO anything about their visits to Israel.

It is not being ruled out that in this case the recently heightened competition between the security departments came into play; each of them has an interest in being the first to bring President Viktor Yushchenko news of the capture (by their own forces) of the main person accused of the Gongadze murder, who may also talk about those who ordered the killing.

Be that as it may, it is unlikely that the Interior Ministry and SBU special groups will come back from the Promised Land with Pukach in handcuffs. The extradition procedure from Israel is extremely complicated, especially if Pukach has managed to become a citizen of the country, and could drag on for years. Although, theoretically speaking, the general could simply be kidnapped, brought to Ukraine illegally somehow and sort of "accidentally" discovered here (but later at a future trial juridical questions will arise).

It is no secret that our operational service in the past "treated themselves" to similar things. In this way, for example, according to this paper's information, at one time one of the contract killers involved in the shooting of people's deputy Yevhen Shcherban was brought from Russia to Ukraine in the boot of a car. True, it is easier to do this from Russia than from Israel.

In 2000 Oleksiy Pukach occupied the post of chief of the criminal search directorate (in plain speech - the visual surveillance service, "the visuals", "the seven") of the Ukrainian Interior Ministry. Pukach is now in the same case with those accused of murdering Heorhiy Gongadze - police colonels Mykola Protasov and Valeriy Kostenko. The fourth accused, who on that fateful evening was driving the car that had taken Heorhiy away, police officer Popovych, is out on bail.

On 16 September 2000 Pukach and the aforementioned three took the journalist to Bila Tserkva District [Kiev Region] and killed him there. What is more, according to the inquiry's theory, the general himself allegedly strangled Heorhiy with his own belt. Then the killers buried the body and went to a cafe to "mark" the event.

We also remind you that Pukach had already been detained by the PGO on 22 October 2003. At that time the court originally authorized his arrest, but on 5 November 2003 (shortly after the dismissal of the then prosecutor-general, [Svyatoslav] Piskun) the court replaced the detention by a bail order, after which Pukach was not seen in Ukraine.

THREE MAIN QUESTIONS ABOUT PUKACH

FIRST, what importance does the capture of Pukach have for solving the Gongadze case? If Pukach admits his part in Gongadze's murder, as the ringleader of the group of killers, he may lead to the people who ordered the crime, who gave him the order to sort out the journalist. Apart from that, Pukach may say how Gongadze's body was beheaded and reburied in Tarashcha [forest where it was found] (although it is not an established fact that the general was in the know about this story).

And this, in turn, may lead to the people who ordered the "cassette scandal". Meaning the people who organized the recording of conversations in [former President Leonid] Kuchma's office on the so-called Melnychenko tapes [allegedly recorded by former Ukrainian state guard Mykola Melnychenko], and who later organized their publication.

SECOND, who can Pukach name as the person who ordered the killing of Gongadze?

There are two options. The first is that Pukach will say that he got the criminal order from former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko (now deceased) and that he does not know who gave the order to Kravchenko (so the thread leading to the real people behind the crime will be broken, perhaps forever). The second is that he will name the people who gave the orders to Kravchenko. In that case, the tangle may unravel to the end.

THIRD, how likely is it that Pukach will admit his part in the killing of Gongadze? The answer directly depends on what other proof the inquiry has about Pukach's participation in the murder of Gongadze apart from the evidence of the men already arrested in the case (after all, in theory the accused could specify both themselves and Pukach).

If there is such proof, then the inquiry will probably find it not difficult to incline Pukach to making a "frank confession". If not, then the inquiry should not expect Pukach to make a confession of his guilt and hence not get evidence from him about the people who ordered the crime.

Source: BBC Monitoring Service

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