Probe Of Ukrainian Reporter's Killing Questioned

KIEV, Ukraine -- The lawyer for the family of a slain Ukrainian journalist said Friday she doubts the arrest of a key suspect will help police track down those responsible for the crime.

In this Aug. 2000 file photo, investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze is seen in the Ukrainian capital Kiev, a month before his abduction and killing. The lawyer for the family of a slain Ukrainian journalist said Friday, she doubts the recent arrest of a key suspect will help police track down those responsible for the crime.

Authorities are not trustworthy and are trying to conceal the identities of the people who set up the grisly murder, said Valentina Telychenko, who represents the widow of Heorhiy Gongadze.

Prosecutors deny Telychenko's allegations. They say she has no knowledge of the investigation, which they say is being conducted professionally and is almost finished.

Gongadze, who wrote about high-profile corruption, was kidnapped in September 2000 and his beheaded body was discovered outside Kiev several months later.

Last week, authorities arrested former senior police officer Olexiy Pukach, the main suspect in the case, who had been in hiding for several years. With his help coroners located what they believe are fragments of Gongadze's skull and are now trying to identify them.

Pukach's arrest came during a visit to Ukraine by U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Ukrainian officials denied there was any connection, but pro-Western President Viktor Yushchenko has long vowed to fight corruption and bring killers to justice. He also is trying to shake off Russian influence and courting U.S. and European support.

Yushchenko met with the heads of the country's law enforcement agencies on Friday and urged them to "put an end to this case that is shameful for Ukraine," reiterating a point he has made for years.

"I know about the pressure being exerted on the investigation today," he said, suggesting that unspecified government officials were seeking to manipulate the investigation. "I know how uneasy it is for law enforcers to work today."

Opponents and rights groups have accused then-President Leonid Kuchma of involvement in the slaying. The killing sparked months of protests against Kuchma after his former bodyguard released tape recordings in which a voice that sounded like Kuchma's is heard complaining about the journalist and suggesting subordinates deal with the problem. Kuchma has denied the allegations.

Prosecutors believe that Pukach took Gongadze to the site of the murder with the help of three others, who were sentenced to lengthy prison terms last year, and then personally strangled him. Experts believe Gongadze was decapitated after his death.

But Telychenko said she was pessimistic that the arrest will help solve the crime. "Pukach's detention is very important, but it doesn't guarantee that those who ordered (the crime) will be uncovered," she told reporters.

She accused the authorities of collaborating with the masterminds of the crime, who she believes were senior government officials in Kuchma's administration. She refused to be more specific about who was allegedly stalling the probe.

She asked the prosecutors to assign a new group of investigators to the case and to conduct forensic tests of the skull with the participation of foreign experts.

Yuriy Boichenko, spokesman for the Prosecutor General's Office, dismissed Telychenko's recommendations, saying the investigators were fully competent and on track to solve the crime. Foreign experts may be allowed to participate in the forensic tests at the victim's family's request, he said.

Source: AP