There is still no legal conclusion to the story of who ordered the murder of Heorhii Gongadze, as Ukraine is on the eve of another anniversary of this crime (the journalist was kidnapped and killed on September 16 and 17, 2000, respectively). What has been said and written seems to be enough to make an action-packed serial. And the main thing is that people know the truth. Why have the i’s not been dotted and the t’s not crossed? Big money, clan influences, indifference of society, and lack of solidarity among journalists are the factors that step on the brake pedal. But this does not mean that there is no progress in the Gongadze case. What has been done in the past year?
THE REAL LINKS AND MOTIVATIONS OF STATEMENTS ARE BEING REVEALED
In an article we published almost a year ago, “When and Why Dates Coincide” (The Day No. 53, September 18, 2012), we wrote about a cynical symbolism: the Yalta Summit organized by ex-president Leonid Kuchma’s family was to open on the 12th anniversary of the murder of Gongadze. So the events began as long as a year ago right at the summit. Among the participants was, quite unexpectedly, a person who had opened a criminal case against Kuchma under the pretext of searching for those who ordered the murder of Gongadze – the First Deputy Prosecutor General Renat Kuzmin. What also left an imprint on the forum participants’ minds were the words of Anders Aslund, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who “assaulted” Kuzmin as follows: “He looked like a gangster, behaved like a gangster, and spoke like a gangster.”
The first deputy prosecutor general responded to Aslaund later, in an interview with the newspaper Den (No. 101, June 13, 2013): “This form was organized by Kuchma’s son-in-law Viktor Pinchuk. He invited Aslund and the all others who broke out slurring me, as well as, incidentally, Mr. Kuchma himself. Besides, they still work at Pinchuk-controlled institutions. So we can presume that the same people organized this story to discredit me personally.” The story had a follow-up. Aslund also immediately responded to these words. “Taking into account the nature of Kuzmin’s statement, I don’t want to comment on it. All that I say may be turned against me,” he told Forbes.
We can conclude from this wrangle that once Kuzmin began to concretize the motivation of Aslund’s behavior, the latter chose to decline to comment on an unpleasant situation. In other words, this reveals the real links and motivations of certain persons’ statements. This means it is not always possible to control the publication of some information that may be unpleasant for the ex-president. Incidentally, this year’s Yalta European Strategy forum will be held on September 19 to 22. As is known, the public figure and journalist Oleksii Podolsky has repeatedly called on politicians, public figures, businesspeople, and journalists to boycott the events organized by the Kuchma family. I wonder who is coming this year.
PODOLSKY DOES NOT ACCEPT “JUDGE MELNYK’S FARCE”
In November 2012 Podolsky, the aggrieved party, had to walk out of the Pechersky Court trial of Oleksii Pukach who was accused of murdering Gongadze. He explained his action by the fact that he had filed three petitions and two statements but they were all declined. “In the first petition, I demanded that the court summon Arsenii Yatseniuk as a witness because he had said earlier that the defendant Pukach and the then Parliament Speaker Lytvyn were taken to President Yanukovych’s Mezhyhiria country retreat,” Podolsky says in a comment to The Day. “Why not produce evidence or deny this information? The second petition was to summon, as a witness, Leonid Kuchma who Pukach says was the original mastermind of his crimes. In the third petition, I demanded investigating the murder of ex-Minister of Internal Affairs Yurii Kravchenko as a key witness. All my petitions were turned down.”
“Then I had to challenge Judge Andrii Melnyk because he did not want to look into this matter and, what is more, acted on the instructions of Kuchma’s family,” Podolsky continues. “He had already had the experience of saving the ex-president from being prosecuted for other crimes. As is known, he falsified the trial and sentence about the attempt on the life of MP Oleksandr Yeliashkevych. This statement of mine also remained unanswered. As a result, I had to make one more statement that I categorically reject this trial, for it was a farce to the tune of Judge Melnyk.”
The public figure explains that one of the motivations of this step was to draw the attention of the public and journalists. It will be recalled that The Day wrote at the time about Podolsky’s demarche, but this did not cause a public stir. Why? This will be discussed below.
PUKACH: “KUCHMA AND LYTVYN MUST BE WITH ME IN THIS CAGE”
Then came the event this country had been awaiting for many years – a trial to which journalists were allowed for the first time (before that, it had been held in-camera) convicted the main perpetrator of the crimes against Podolsky and Gongadze. Oleksii Pukach, former chief of the Ministry of Internal Affairs’ Outdoor Surveillance Department, was sentenced to life imprisonment and confiscation of property and banned from assuming governmental offices.
Although the very fact of the crimes had long been known, the details of the case were a harrowing indication of deep immorality and cruelty. For example, Mykola Protasov, one of the former policemen who belonged to the “Pukach group” that perpetrated the crime, testified that Gongadze was seized on Lesia Ukrainka Boulevard and carried outside Kyiv. Pukach told them to “drive to the grandpa,” i.e., his farther-in-law, where he took a spade, ordered them to dig a grave for Gongadze, and began to beat up and try to strangle the journalist with a belt. “Gongadze took a deep breath and was fighting to break free, and Pukach ordered his men to knock the living daylights out of him,” the text of the sentence says. Then the murderers with Pukach at the head threw away his cell phone and bag in different places into the Dnipro, had dinner and drank a bottle of vodka at a restaurant, after which Pukach told his henchmen to “forget what they have been doing in the past two days.”
“They only convicted an instrument of the Kuchma regime,” Podolsky says. “This is partially fair because the so-called trial conducted by Melnyk refused pointblank to examine the motives of Puckach’s crime. Why did he commit the crime? Who ordered him to do this?” In the connection, there is an interesting point in the text of the sentence, which largely remained unnoticed. Pukach’s testimony says: “On September 11, 2000, or so Kravchenko summoned him [Pukach. – Author] and told him to take measures against Gongadze similar to those taken against Podolsky. In particular, it was necessary to ‘remove’ Gongadze so that nobody could find him because he was passing abroad false information about the political leadership. Asked what is meant by ‘removing,’ Kravchenko said Gongadze must be killed, burned down, and dug under. Kravchenko also said that he was speaking on behalf of Ukraine’s President Leonid Kuchma.”
But what was the main event that happened on that day? The world’s media quoted the words of Pukach at the trial. After pronouncing the sentence, Judge Melnyk asked the defendant if he agreed to the court’s ruling, to which Pukach said: “I will agree when Kuchma and Lytvyn are with me in this cage.”
KUZMIN: “WE HAVE SUFFICIENT EVIDENCE THAT PROVES KUCHMA’S IMPLICATION IN THE CRIME AGAINST GONGADZE”
Indeed, the question of who masterminded the crimes against Podolsky and Gongadze came again to the fore after Pukach had been convicted. It is Renat Kuzmin who answered it soon (in February 2013). “I personally signed the old resolution on Kuchma. But the old law allowed a suspect to appeal the resolution in a court,” the first deputy prosecutor general told the Echo of Moscow radio station. He pointed out that the judge had dropped the case because Kuzmin referred to the Melnychenko tapes, which “had a questionable history of origin, as evidence.” “Then we adopted a resolution under the new procedure and began to investigate into who ordered the murder,” Kuzmin said. Asked if they will manage to prove that Kuchma ordered the murder, Kuzmin said: “We have sufficient evidence that proves Kuchma’s implication in this crime, and we are now further investigating and gathering all kinds of proof.”
But, as it became known later, Kuzmin is in charge of not only this case. As member of the Higher Board of Justice (HBJ), he also supervises the case of the abovementioned Judge Melnyk. The point is that Podolsky has requested the HBJ to call the judge to account for falsifying the Yeliashkevych case. “The HBJ chair instructed me to examine this request,” Kuzmin said in the above-mentioned interview with The Day. “If all that is written in Podolsky’s petition is confirmed, the judge may be dismissed for breach of the oath. Should the facts not be proved, the petitioner will receive a motivated response to his application.”
YELIASHKEVYCH: “A NEW CENTER OF INFLUENCE HAS EMERGED IN THE INVESTIGATION OF KUCHMA’S CRIMES”
A new circumstance may become a serious turning point in investigating high-profile cases. “A new center of influence has emerged in the investigation of Kuchma’s crimes – the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe (US Helsinki Commission) created by the US Congress,” Oleksandr Yeliashkevych, MP in two convocations, comments to The Day. “This became a surprise for the government, society, and journalists of Ukraine. The first explosion went off on May 8 this year, when Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara turned out unprepared to answer the questions of US Congressman Steve Cohen at the Helsinki Commission’s session on progress in investigating the cases of me, Podolsky, and Gongadze. The next wave was the address of the Helsinki Commission on August 1 this year about these crimes directly to Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych.”
According to the former MP, the Helsinki Commission’s efforts in this field are already producing some results. “I want to remind you that Leonid Kuchma so pompously celebrated his 75th birthday with oligarchs, showbiz stars, and his family friend Aleksander Kwasniewski in Sardinia, not in Ukraine,” Yeliashkevych continues. “The ex-president was forced to celebrate in Italy because he was aware that Viktor Yanukovych would hardly come to greet him. And the absence of the president at this kind of events is tantamount to a ‘black spot.’ Besides, the very fact that Kuchma was never honored with a presidential award is a very bad sign for the ex-president, which he understands very well. This is in sharp contrast with the jubilee of another president, Leonid Kravchuk, who will celebrate his 80th birthday in January next year. The Cabinet of Ministers has already adopted a special resolution on this date, which provides for certain celebration events.”
“This person is marking his 75th birthday today,” Heorhii Gongadze’s widow Myroslava wrote on August 9 on her Facebook page. “In a civilized state, he would be celebrating together with his cellmates, but in Ukraine the people who committed the crime on his orders are serving a sentence, while he is basking in the sun of Sardinia. He is paid a state pension, while we, citizens of Ukraine, pay every day for his well-protected old age. God make him healthy enough to live to see himself in prison and make us strong enough to see justice done!”
“There was a totally different situation five years ago,” Yeliashkevych recalls. “Kuchma celebrated his 70th birthday much more luxuriously. Firstly, the celebrations were held in Ukraine and, secondly, in Ukraina Palace, from where it was broadcast live and repeatedly rebroadcast. Incidentally, this occurred during the presidency of Viktor Yushchenko. And the fact that he not only failed to keep his promises to punish the masterminds of high-profile crimes, but also began to ‘cooperate’ with the Kuchma family became a burden that drew Yushchenko into the political limbo. Incidentally, I repeatedly and publicly warned Yushchenko about such a finale of his political career, particularly, in a Den interview (No. 24, July 28, 2007).”
Yeliashkevych also recalled a well-known ploy to whitewash Kuchma. “To make up for the cooling of relations between Kuchma and Yanukovych, the Inter TV channel aired on the eve of Independence Day the film Battle for Ukraine made by the well-known Russian director Andrei Konchalovsky at the Kuchma family’s request, which portrays Kuchma as a ‘great statesman,’” Yeliashkevych says, “but this in no way eased Kuchma’s current situation.”
Incidentally, the attentive TV viewer must have noticed that one of the “actors” does not fit in with the film to some extent. It is Mykola Melnychenko who notoriously bugged the second president’s office room. “Konchalovsky interviewed me almost four years ago,” Melnychenko says to The Day, “but what Inter showed is Goebbels-style propaganda. Words were wrested from the context, and some phrases were delivered the way the film’s requesters wanted. People are just being zombified.”
Naturally, there can be different attitudes to the figure of Kuchma’s ex-security guard. It is the result of his behavior and comments as well as of the efforts of those who tried to discredit him. This is what Melnychenko himself says about one of the methods to discredit the tapes in the face of the law: “The year before last Valerii Khoroshkovsky took a shameful action, requesting the Constitutional Court to rule that the recordings were made illegally. My lawyers have analyzed this request and found that Khoroshkovsky was not legally authorized, as Security Service chief, to turn to the CC for explanations. I raised the alarm at that very time, for I wanted society to pay attention to this, as the CC verdict was a foregone conclusion.” But, whatever the case, time has shown that the Melnychenko tapes are authentic.
KRYVDYK: “JOURNALISTS MUST SHOW MORE PERSISTENCE AND SOLIDARITY”
A special question emphasized by the Gongadze case parties, public figures, politicians, experts, and others is the role of journalists in this tragic story. It is above all they who need the truth to be said and the case to be finished because a colleague of theirs was killed, not to mention the struggle for justice and freedom of speech. Whether journalists themselves are aware of this is a moot point. Unfortunately, joint efforts and solidarity are not much to the fore.
“We should remember that there was rather a sad but real tendency: there was some progress in the Gongadze case only when politicians were interested in it,” independent analyst Ostap Kryvdyk comments to The Day. “And politicians were interested only when journalists put up stiff resistance. Unfortunately, a host of other minor problems drew the focus of journalists’ attention from the Gongadze affair. This is bad. Journalists must show more persistence and solidarity. I think next year the focus of attention will turn again and we must restore justice no matter what goals the participants in this process may have set to themselves. The man should be buried and the criminals should be found and convicted.”
The Day wrote last week that the online publication Ukrainska Pravda refuses to open Podolsky’s blog (The Day No. 52, September 10, 2013). Incidentally, our request to UP chief editor Olena Prytula to comment on the situation still remains unanswered. Podolsky also says he has received no response. Why is this important to the public figure? He explained last time: “It is a matter of principle for me to have a blog in UP because, firstly, Heorhii Gongadze is the founder of this online resource. Secondly, LiveJournal is a more ‘household’ publication, while the people who log on to UP may be interested in the Gongadze case.”
“A few years ago, Olena Prytula also denied me a blog in Ukrainska Pravda,” Melnychenko says. “So I am not surprised with the Podolsky situation. Prytula is to blame for this. I don’t think she wants the case to be heard in court. There must be some deep roots and ‘skeletons in the closets’ here. They betrayed a colleague of theirs. Much to our regret, most of the journalists are not doing their best to get the crime masterminds punished. Whatever the case, if media people come out united, they are heeded. But it really embitters me that there is no solidarity among journalists about this case. Today’s leadership is not implicated in the murder – the blame lies with the leadership of the day before yesterday. So the powers that be can bring this case to a logical end – of course if journalists keep on raising this subject over and over again.”
Our aim is not to cast a shadow on Ukrainska Pravda but to set the situation right. We do not succeed so far. Incidentally we also turned for comment to UP deputy chief editor Serhii Leshchenko who responded quite quickly: “All the matters connected with blog opening are in Olena Prytula’s competence. I can say nothing on this occasion.”
Oleksandr Yeliashkevych also has questions to Leshchenko. “Journalist Serhii Leshchenko has written so much about Kuchma’s Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko but nothing about Kuchma himself. But I have long been saying that the Lazarenko case is just a chapter of the Kuchma case. When is Mr. Leshchenko going to write about the sources and components of Kuchma’s multibillion-dollar wealth? You absolutely don’t need any visas or titanic efforts to visit the ex-president’s huge estates. You can also travel across Sardinia, London, and other nooks of the globe strewn with Kuchma’s manors. You can also tell Ukrainian society about the exotic country Brunei.”
DOES SOCIETY HAVE A CHANCE TO CLEAN ITSELF?
In reality, the Kuchma case is not only about searching for the masterminds, but also about understanding the necessity of Ukraine’s purification. Does our sociopolitical life have a chance to clean itself in the current conditions? Has the public changed its attitude to the Gongadze case in the past year?
“The masterminds’ case has not yet been fully investigated, for we have in 2013 the same situation as in 2000,” lawyer Oleksandr Kravchuk says to The Day. “And, unfortunately, the system which Kuchma built and which Gongadze fell victim to was not ruined after the events of 2004. It is a big question whether this system can be called a state, for we in fact have a small number of clan representatives who take advantage of the so-called state institutions to achieve the goal of boundless enrichment and unlimited power over the people. It is impossible to solve the problem of bringing Gongadze’s murderers to justice in these conditions. Only changing the system whose founding father was Kuchma and establishing a constitutional system based on the rule of law and civic freedoms will make it possible to investigate all the wrongdoings of the past 20 years and, above all, the tragedy of Heorhii.”
Why are there so many indifferent people? “In my view, there are a number of factors that shape this mentality of our compatriots,” says Kravchuk. “Above all, this was caused by certain historical events, such as centuries-long extermination of those who rose up to fight against enslavement that existed until the mid-20th century, the knocking-out of the people’s linchpin, their spirituality, by way of the complete subjugation of the Orthodox church to the state and using it as manipulator of people’s sentiments. The Holodomor was also an immense upheaval and tragedy that had a catastrophic effect on people’s awareness at the genetic level. Hence we have an atomized society in which people care about their own survival. We will only have a chance for purification when people come to know and analyze their own condition and wish to change themselves and society for the better.”
NALYVAICHENKO: “PUKACH NAMED THOSE WHO ISSUED ORDERS. WE EXPECT THE PROSECUTOR GENERAL’S OFFICE TO INSTITUTE CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS”
Oleksii Podolsky thinks that the Gongadze case is a way for the current leadership to hold the Kuchma family on a hook. “It is an element of big politics,” Podolsky says. “The Gongadze case allows controlling the ex-president’s family which has a powerful political clout and economic resources. If any member of this clan becomes ‘disobedient,’ it is always possible to pull the string of a well-known case and put him or her one to their proper place.”
And the opposition? Why is the Gongadze case still unsolved after so many years? Why does the opposition keep quiet without making statements or demands? Maybe, because many of the current oppositionists are a chip off Kuchma? We put these questions to Valentyn Nalyvaichenko, former SBU chief and now an UDAR faction MP.
“Neither the pretrial nor the in-trial investigation of the Gongadze case established the main thing – a link between those who perpetrated and ordered the murder, even though we did our best to furnish investigators with the key witness and have the case fully investigated. I was personally responsible for tracking down General Pukach. The SBU helped to find, detain, and send him behind bars so that prosecutors could handle him. And he immediately agreed to cooperate.
“Unfortunately, the trial was behind the closed door. I cannot agree that the opposition kept silent. We appraised this trial in no uncertain terms. I personally firmly supported the idea of an open-door trial so that people could hear the answer directly from the main organizer and perpetrator of the murder and, what is more, come to know about who ordered the crime.
“If General Pukach named at the trial those who issued him criminal orders, we expect the Prosecutor General’s Office to institute criminal proceedings against them. If these persons are no longer living, the prosecution should make an official announcement to this effect.
“Another important thing is responsibility of high police officials who worked with Pukach at the time. If they knew about his misdeeds, why didn’t they report his criminal activities, why didn’t they stop them? If they did not know, why did this become possible? Why did the longtime existence of this police criminal group remain unnoticed?
“Finally, it is very important that conclusions be made from this and other cases of uniformed turncoats and essential amendments be introduced to the clauses of the Law on Police, which regulate and limit the use of special-purpose units.
“These units and their commanders should be placed under strict parliamentary control so that neither corruption nor commerce could influence them in any conditions. The ministry of internal affairs must not have any secret units that cut off journalists’ heads and kill people under a contract. There must be no ‘police graveyards’ to which murdered people are brought to be buried.
“We must do our utmost to prevent the ‘eagles’ that once served Kravchenko from ever coming back.”
WHAT DO WE HAVE NOW?
As is known, after a sentence was passed on Pukach, the convict’s defense attorney; Valentyna Telychenko, representative of Myroslava Gongadze at the trial; and the aggrieved party Oleksii Podolsky appealed against this ruling – everybody for their own reasons. When will the appeals be examined? As Pukach’s lawyer recently told the newspaper Segodnia, his ward has read only a half of his case record. Taking into account such a slow pace, the court may examine these appeals next year – in fact in the heat of the presidential campaign which is admittedly an unpredictable period, especially when criminal proceedings have been instituted.
In particular, Podolsky told us that he intends to travel to the US, where he is expected to inform the American side on the high-profile case situation in Ukraine. Yeliashkevych adds: “The trial is bound to continue…”
As we can see, there are quite a few sides that are interested in having president Kuchma-era crimes solved.