"Kuchma responsible for disappearance of journalist"
— Corine de Vries
Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma is directly responsible for the disappearance and possibly the gruesome murder of investigative journalist Georgy Gongadze, said oppositionleader Oleksander Moroz, leader of the Ukranian Socialist Party, this weekend in Budapest. De Volkskrant has access to a secret recording which the opposition party says was made in the president’s office, and in which Kuchma can be heard ordering Gongadze’s kidnapping.
Foto: Associated Press
|"The conversations between Kuchma and several of his trusted advisors, recorded this summer, show that the president ordered his Minister of Internal Affairs to have Gongadze kidnapped," says former chairman of the Ukrainian Parliament Moroz, who came in third at the presidential election last year.||The original de Volkskrant site offers audiofiles of the Kuchma tapes in this position.|
Moroz was planning to repeat his accusation tomorow in the parliament, but instead held an urgent press-conference in Kiev. In Budapest he explained why he decided to go public with the recording: ‘Our president has commited a crime, and according to our constitution the parliament should then start an impeachment-procedure.’ Moroz hopes the parliament will agree on this. ‘I expect my colleagues will realize that the policy of our government is based on blackmail and criminal activities. That Ukraine is becoming an absolute dictatorship.’
The 31-year-old Georgy Gongadze disappeared on September 16 while on his way home to his wife and three-year-old twins. Two weeks ago, his decapitated body, mutilated beyond recognition with chemicals, was discovered by fellow journalists. Local forensic experts were able to identify the body with the use of X-rays. Peaces of metal were found in the victim’s arm, corresponding to the injuries Gongadze received in 1993 during the war between Georgia and the rebel republic of Abkhazeti. A ring, a bracelett and an amulet belonging to Gongadze were also found on the body.
Because both the body and the jewellery have dissappeared - they were confiscated by the police - Moroz can not say for sure that Gongadze is dead. ‘As long as we don’t have the results of a bloodtest, we can not be 100 percent sure. And we will keep on hoping that Gongadze is still alive, that he can be saved. But there are to many facts that point out this really was his body.’
Gongadze was one of only a few Ukrainian journalists who dared to write freely about the government and corruption in the circles surrounding Kuchma. He published many of his findings in the Internet newspaper Ukrainska Pravda, which he set up earlier this year.
His disappearance provoked a national and international uproar. The Ukrainian Parliament and the media called for a thorough investigation. More than eighty journalists signed an open letter addressed to Kuchma, in which the country’s authorities were called on to protect the freedom of the press. Amnesty International, Reporters Without Frontiers and the American embassy expressed their concern about the journalist’s fate.
The recording in question contains snatches of conversation between Kuchma and several of his advisors. The person who smuggled the recordings out of the presidential palace, a former officer of the Ukranian secret service, has fot now, for reasons of personal safety, refused to be identified here by name. This week, he and his family managed to go abroad.
On the tape, one hears Kuchma complaining irritatedly about Gongadze, probably to his Minister of Domestic Affairs, Yuriy Kravchenko: "The things he writes in Ukrainska Pravda are absolutely bald-faced. That Georgian… Gongadze… (Gongadze is a Georgian surname – ed). Who’s paying him, anyway? Moroz, right? Let’s take him to court. The attorney general has to do something about this. Or no, it’s about time the Chechens kidnapped him, took him to Chechnya and demanded a fat ransom. (…) That’s the first order I’m giving you."
In the second conversation, Kuchma repeats his request: "I’m asking you to kidnap him and take him out of the country." In reply, the man – probably Kravchenko – confirms that he is already having Gongadze shadowed. "I’m having them follow Gongadze every minute. We’re studying the situation: we have to know exactly where he goes, how and with whom. We need a little time, but then we’ll move in and do what you want."
The following excerpt from the tape shows that the operation has run into delays. Kuchma asks about Gongadze, and the person he is speaking to replies: "It’s been a bit of a fiasco. Gongadze noticed he was being shadowed, and he registered a complaint with the chief prosecutor. Then police chief Opanasenko started his own investigation. He saw that the car shadowing Gongadze had fake license plates, and he reported it. I’ll make sure Opanasenko’s fired. And I’m going to change my tactics."
Opanasenko, former second in command of the Kiev police department, has since been fired. And not long after Gongadze registered his complaint with the police, he actually disappeared.