The Gongadze cause celebre outlived yet another administration. Under Viktor Yanukovych, there was a chance that it will be definitely finished regarding punishment of those behind the murder of the journalist. It never happened. However, during this period, the first attempt was made to bring to justice the instigators of the crime. A criminal case was instituted in 2011 against former president Leonid Kuchma, who was accused of ordering the murder of journalist Heorhii Gongadze and the kidnapping and beating of civic activist Oleksii Podolsky. The Prosecutor General Office’s decision was later deemed illegal by courts. However, after the entry into force of the new Code of Criminal Procedure, the case was reinstituted. The investigation is ongoing to this day.
Nonetheless, the main perpetrator of the crimes against Gongadze and Podolsky, former head of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of Ukraine’s surveillance department Oleksii Pukach was convicted. Kyiv’s Pechersky District Court sentenced him to life imprisonment in January 2013. Subsequently, both the convict and other parties to the trial appealed for different motives. The first hearing was held a year later, on January 21, 2014, but the court made no decision on the merits on that day, postponing next hearing to March 12. In this time, Ukraine had a regime change. The new regime now bears the responsibility for the fate of the historic cause celebre.
A scandal erupted immediately. None of numerous reporters was allowed in the courtroom on March 12. It turned out that at its previous hearing, the court decided that all subsequent proceeding would be closed. But the judges probably did not take into account that the previous hearing was open and watched by a lot of journalists. They were very surprised on March 12: how a hearing may be closed if nobody announced it at the previous hearing?
Although the hearing was held behind closed doors, people in the hallway could hear the victim Podolsky resenting such behavior of judges. “Today, the court went on to present outright lies with support of prosecutors and Myroslava Gongadze’s lawyer Valentyna Telychenko,” Podolsky told The Day. “They claimed that the court had ruled to close proceedings the last time. But we all know perfectly well that it did not. All this is done in order to close the case. I was very surprised with Telychenko’s position. She looks like protecting the interests of Kuchma.”
Telychenko told reporters in response: “The court has decided to call on the state expert on secrets to provide assessment whether it is possible to conduct appellate review of the Pukach case in open court. All the sides except the victim Podolsky put the issue of open or closed proceedings at the discretion of the court. It always amazes me to see this question raised again, as the court of first instance rejected my request on it. State expert can assess presence of state secrets in a particular text, but when it comes to predicting the future (whether or not a state secret will surface in some specific case), no state expert is authorized to make such findings.”
Thus, after a meeting in retiring room, Kyiv Appeal Court postponed the hearing to 11 a.m. on April 28. Telychenko said at once that she “will see this as another unjustified delay in the consideration of the appeal.” Podolsky stressed instead: “Today we have seen that the court continues to be a tame one and guided by the instructions coming from above. The names of the state leadership have changed, but the methods have not. The current regime is actually following in the footsteps of Viktor Yushchenko, who guaranteed immunity from prosecution to Kuchma. I do not know about any guarantees provided to Yanukovych by current leaders, but we can see that no one from the previous government has been detained. This suggests that no one wants the Heavenly Sotnia murders, kidnappings, and beatings to be investigated.”
Hardly anyone has doubts that the cause celebre, which has entered its 14th year, is of fundamental importance to society. Its openness is needed, particularly in order to shed light on the activities of the so-called “death squads” that kidnapped, abused, and killed protesters during the recent events in Ukraine. Podolsky argues that the methods of these rogue cops, which were used against him and Gongadze, are identical to those employed in the murder of Yurii Verbytsky or beating of Ihor Lutsenko.