Ukraine Opens Criminal Probe Against Ex-President: Reports

KIEV, Ukraine -- Ukraine has opened a criminal investigation against its former president Leonid Kuchma over the murder in 2000 of opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze, reports said on Tuesday.

Ukraine's former president Leonid Kuchma.

Ukrainian online newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, which was founded by Gongadze himself, said it had been told by two concurring high-ranking sources that a probe had been opened against Kuchma.

"It is expected that this will be made public on Tuesday at a news conference by first deputy prosecutor Renata Kuzmina," it added. The prosecutor general's office was not available for immediate comment.

The Interfax-Ukraine news agency meanwhile cited its sources confirming that a criminal enquiry had been opened but adding that no formal accusations had yet been presented against Kuchma.

Gongadze was a campaigning journalist who was frequently critical of Kuchma and his murder was the most notorious crime in the country's post-Soviet history.

The anti-Kuchma opposition at the time implicated the ex-president in the crime but there has never been proof of wrongdoing on his part or his then chief of staff, Volodymr Lytvyn, now speaker of the Ukrainian parliament.

Gongadze was kidnapped in September 2000 after leaving a friend's apartment in Kiev. Former Ukrainian interior ministry Olexy Pukach was arrested last year and confessed to having personally strangled the journalist with his belt, then beheading him with an axe.

In September 2010 prosecutors said that ex-interior minister Yury Kravchenko who committed suicide in 2005 ordered the murder.

But questions have remained over the true mastermind of the killing, with Gongadze's supporters insisting that even higher forces were at work and accusing the authorities of seeking to sweep the crime under the carpet.

Kuchma was Ukraine's second post-independence president from 1994-2005 and was credited with treading a wily path between Russia and the West although he grew to be a hate figure for the liberal opposition.

Source: AFP