The high-profile and globally notorious Gongadze case is, unfortunately, turning into a “court adjournments parade.” The Kyiv Court of Appeal was again in session on June 5 and postponed again the hearing of appellations (including one from Oleksii Pukach, former chief of the Outdoor Surveillance Department of Ukraine’s Interior Ministry, who was given a life sentence for killing journalist Heorhii Gongadze and beating up public figure Oleksii Podolsky). This is the fourth time! The next session is to be held on June 19 at 11 a.m. The judges with Tetiana Frich at the head have customarily found a reason. Last time it was technical defects in the court room.
This time the reasons are as follows. “The first is the unexpected absence at the session of Myroslava Gongadze’s and Pukach’s lawyers Valentyna Telychenko and Hryhorii Demydenko, respectively,” Oleksandr Yeliashkevych, who represents Podolsky, explains to The Day. “The other reason is more important – on our demand, the court has adjourned this trial until the Higher Council of Justice looks into a personal conduct case of Judge Melnyk who presided over the Pukach trial at the Pechersky District Court. Incidentally, this could have been done long ago, instead of delaying the trial. An authorized council member accuses Melnyk of breaching the oath and falsifying criminal cases in the interests of the Kuchma family. I hope he will be dismissed from office and brought to criminal justice.”
Indeed, we saw a totally different picture near the court room door in comparison with the previous sessions. Firstly, there were really no Telychenko and Demydenko, and, secondly, the trial drew a very small number of journalists – they could be counted by the fingers of one hand. But things were not so simple. “I personally saw Telychenko in the morning. We got checked together at the pass-through,” Podolsky comments to The Day. “Then I think she went to consult with the judges about the case and never showed up to the trial. The judges lied when they said Telychenko could not come because she had another court session to attend. It is a paradox because she had been very critical earlier about the trial’s delay.”
As for Demydenko, the situation was very funny indeed. Pukach’s lawyer showed up immediately after the end of the trial, when the journalists were still in the room. Demydenko never managed to explain his absence. Here are his excuses: “I thought the trial [would begin] at 11. Do you think I have only one criminal case to think about? I am an ordinary man, like anybody else, so I may be ill, sneeze, and come late.” According to Yeliashkevych, Pukach was prepared to have his case heard even without his lawyer. “He even said it was not his lawyer but one from the Prosecutor General’s Office,” the former MP of three convocations says. “Pukach emphasized again that he was guilty of the crime against Podolsky and was supporting Podolsky’s position. He also stressed that Judge Melnyk was to be brought to justice because he allowed pressure to be put on him in the pretrial jail (to persuade him not to testify against Kuchma and Lytvyn).”
But, still, why is the trial being dragged out? Pukach’s lawyer answer is “I don’t know.” Podolsky’s version is as follows: “The Kuchma family so far fails to carry out their plan and get the Gongadze case dropped. The judges do not want to assume responsibility in such a stormy time, when it is not clear what position the official leadership with Poroshenko at the head will take. To secure themselves, they want to consult with the new leadership, which is only possible after the president’s inauguration. Then it will be responsibility of the fifth head of state. Let us hope Petro Poroshenko will not follow in the footsteps of his predecessors, who used this case as a bargaining chip, or tease civil society. I think we will manage to prove via the media and the international community that the investigation of Maidan crimes should be preceded with an inquiry into Kuchma’s crimes against Gongadze, Podolsky, and Yeliashkevych.”
Meanwhile, ex-president Kuchma has again made an exhibition of himself. Firstly, he continues to play the role of an expert who gives advice to the current politicians. He said on June 5 that the newly-elected President Poroshenko should begin with putting Kyiv in order. “In any case, Kyiv is the capital, and we must set an example for all the regions. But we should not forget about what is going on in Donbas today, so we should not just cajole the other side. There must be concrete, clear, and tough measures so that the other side understands that the games are over,” Kuchma said.
“The ex-president seems to have forgotten how many years he ruled this country. I will remind him – ten,” Yeliashkevych comments. “Kuchma is fully responsible for what has happened to Crimea and is going on in Donbas today. In almost all the years of independence, this region has been ruled by the Party of Regions which Kuchma raised to the national level, bringing his follower Yanukovych to power. Is it not Kuchma who played up to the Donetsk clan to counterpoise that of Dnipropetrovsk? Is it not he who ‘leased out’ Donbas to Yanukovych and Co. in exchange for support in the 1999 presidential elections, which eventually reduced this region to the current condition? For this reason, the current government must listen to the professionals who know the score rather than to Kuchma who planted all these ‘mines’ under our statehood.”
Secondly, the ex-president never forgets to sing praises of his rule. This time Kuchma has pointed again that he “does not see any strategic mistakes in the period of his presidency.” Very recently, the second president “backed” Ukraine with a statement that “we won’t be able to regain Crimea,” adding gloatingly: “I said long ago: I’d like to see Ukraine without Kuchma.” Social networking sites exploded in response. “Kuchma has in general no moral right to comment on something,” Natalia Zhurmy writes in Facebook. “Nobody will forget who we owe for Yanukovych. He pushed him to premiership, he made him president.” “Kuchma is clearly to blame for the ongoing events. Had he been a realist, he would have assessed the consequences of his appointees’ performance,” adds Ivan Mykolaiovych.
“Instead of giving testimony, Kuchma is dishing out advice,” Podolsky says. “It is during his presidency that corruption blossomed and struck roots, an oligarchic clan system took shape, and still unsolved crimes were committed. Besides, he himself said that his people are in politics everywhere. These are strategic mistakes. And did the Orange Revolution not occur in his era?”
The Gongadze case is a serious indicator for the new government. So far, none of the previous presidents – neither Yushchenko nor Yanukovych – have passed this test. Are the current helmsmen capable of breaking this bad tradition, clearing society of the past, and solving this high-profile case at last?