Melnychenko Says He Did Not Warn Gongadze, Threats Too Vague

KIEV, Ukraine -- A former presidential bodyguard said Dec. 5 he did not warn Ukrainian journalist Georgy Gongadze that high officials were allegedly conspiring against him because the threats were too vague.

Mykola Melnichenko

"There was no exact order to kill," said Mykola Melnichenko, an ex-bodyguard of former President Leonid Kuchma. "There was an order to take him to Chechnya and sort him out."

Gongadze, who wrote about high-level corruption under Kuchma, was abducted from a Kyiv street in September 2000, and his headless corpse was found weeks later.

The killing sparked mass protests after Melnichenko revealed secret recordings he claimed were made in Kuchma's office. In the recordings, which experts have found to be authentic, voices resembling Kuchma's, his then-Chief of Staff Volodymyr Lytvyn's and other top officials' are heard repeatedly conspiring against Gongadze.

Kuchma and Lytvyn, who now serves as parliament speaker, have denied any involvement and called the allegations absurd.

After releasing the tapes, Melnichenko fled Ukraine and was granted political asylum in the United States. He returned last week, and was immediately summoned for questioning by prosecutors investigating Gongadze's death. He did not say Dec. 5 when he might speak to prosecutors.

Many critics have questioned whether Melnichenko had enough seniority to have access to Kuchma's office. Melnichenko rejected those allegations Dec. 5, telling reporters he was the one who secretly recorded the conversations.

Kuchma's supporters have suggested Gongadze's death and the tapes were an effort to frame the former president.

Three former police officers have been charged in connection with Gongadze's killing, and their case has been sent to a court. A trial date has not yet been set. A fourth officer is wanted on an international warrant.

Gongadze's family has repeatedly complained that the government has bungled the investigation and done too little to find the mastermind.

Source: AP