Brian Bonner: Justice delayed, justice denied
OnSept. 16, 2015, 15 years after the crime, the person or persons who ordered the murder of Ukrainian journalist Georgiy Gongadze may be home free. While in most civilized nations, there is no statute of limitations for murder, that limit is only 15 years in Ukraine. Some exceptions apply, but the lawyer representing Gongadze’s widow, Valentyna Telychenko, is not sure whether this murder would qualify.
No case in Ukraine’s independent history more famously illustrates the extent to which Ukraine’s criminal justice system is broken than the deliberately flubbed investigation into who ordered the Sept. 16, 2000 killing of the muckraking journalist.
This case has had it all, including tampering with the crime scene, obstruction of justice, mysterious deaths of witnesses, audio recordings implicating former President Leonid Kuchma and his top aides and, conversely, suggestions of Kremlin involvement to set up Kuchma with the political aim of provoking the West to cut their ties with him.
And the case is still ongoing.
The highest-level person convicted in the crime, former police Gen. Oleksiy Pukach, is still appealing his life sentence.
Here’s a rundown of only a small fraction of theories and absurdities, at least from my point of view, in the case after a conversation with Telychenko. She, incidentally, remains bound by confidentiality from discussing some aspects of the case because she is an official part of the investigation. (This is another perverse way to shut up people in criminal cases in Ukraine: Make them part of the case.)
The guilty verdict against Pukach is not in force – Much to my surprise, while Pukach was arrested in 2009 and convicted in 2013, the verdict is still not in effect – and won’t be until the appeals court says so. It hasn’t ruled yet. Insane. He remains, however, jailed in a Security Service of Ukraine jail, described to me as a country club of prisons.
The recordings implicating Kuchma in ordering the murder cannot be used as evidence because prosecutors don’t have the originals – This is the most absurd contention I have heard, repeated over and over through
the years as if a mantra. Look, whether the recordings are original or not, or have been doctored or not, should do nothing to damage the investigation. Here’s why: Competent investigators would listen to the recordings, subpoena Kuchma’s schedule, verify whether the persons in the recordings actually held those meetings with Kuchma, study what events corroborated those talks and then offer the participants limited immunity from prosecution in exchange for truthful testimony against Kuchma or whoever ordered the murder.
Kuchma, who claims he is innocent, only wants to clear his name – Complete and total hogwash. The case has been marred by incompetence and, worse, obstruction from the start, with a parade of changing investigators and prosecutors who spun fanciful tales about who might be responsible – including the dead suspects Cyclops and Sailor Boy. Obstruction of justice is evidence of guilt. And Kuchma was the chief obstructionist.
Why Kuchma doesn’t insist on a trial to clear his name – “You know what Kuchma is afraid of? A Ukrainian court is not an independent court. You do not know who will bribe the court and how it will conduct its sessions,” Telychenko said.
Kuchma was popular, having just been re-elected in 1999, and had no reason to kill Gongadze – Again, complete and total nonsense. Kuchma ran the nation into the ground, ruled as a dictator and enriched selected oligarchs around him, the favorite being his son-inlaw Victor Pinchuk, who became a billionaire under daddy-in-law’s reign of error. Kuchma is a reprehensible figure devoid of conscience and one of the biggest reasons why Ukraine is in its pitiful state today. While the Baltics and Poland were doing their homework to get into NATO and the European Union, as well as raising standards of living, Kuchma was godfather of a criminal state, content to treat 45 million people like cattle. He flirted with a third term until Ukrainians told him to forget it, in no uncertain terms. As for his “popularity,” Kuchma controlled the media and set up a contest between himself and the hapless Communist Party leader, Petro Symonenko, in the 1999 election. Still, Kuchma felt compelled to cheat to win. Gongadze was murdered as a symbol of independent thinking and independence of media – in Kuchma’s world, such impudence could not be tolerated. Even if he did not order Gongadze’s murder, evidence shows he ordered many other crimes, including police surveillance of dozens of enemies.
So, it’s obvious that Kuchma ordered the murder? – I would have said yes until recently. After all, the chain of command from the convicted police officers to Pukach to then-interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko to Kuchma is pretty clear and is corroborated by other evidence, including police tailing Gongadze and events described on the recordings that happened in real life. However, the most popular theory now is that the Kremlin did it, through its agents who infiltrated high positions of Ukrainian law enforcement. Inconveniently, those suspected Kremlin agents – Eduard Fere and Yuriy Degaev – are dead. Fere died in 2009 after six years in a coma and Degaev, in 2003. Telychenko believes they were poisoned to death.
Why is the case taking so long? – There are three big theories. One is that politicians and prosecutors wanted to keep extracting bribes from Pinchuk and Kuchma. I believe that – and fugitive ex-prosecutor Renat Kuzmin of the President Viktor Yanukovych era poured fuel on that theory by accusing Kuchma of giving a $1 billion bribe to close the case. Another theory is that Kuchma has effective immunity from prosecution. I believe that one also. A third one is that Ukraine knew Russian agents were involved, but didn’t want to create a public rift with its Slavic neighbor by publicly releasing evidence to support this theory. Now that Russia is an enemy of Ukraine, we may yet see this become the official version. It also fits with a long line of suspected Kremlin attempts to control Ukraine, including through the dioxin poisoning of President Viktor Yushchenko and the subversion of Yanukovych. In light of today’s war, and the West’s isolation of Kuchma after the Gongadze murder, the Kremlin did-it-theory looks more persuasive all the time.
Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko’s death in 2005 – The victim succumbed to two gunshot wounds to the head in 2005 on the same day that he was publicly known to be scheduled to give testimony in the case. His death, probably murder but ruled suicide, is one of many cases in which law enforcement destroys cases by publicly outing key witnesses – inviting assassinations. This subversion continues to this day.
After years of stops and starts, Telychenko says a final official version of the investigation may be released publicly on the 15th anniversary of the murder.
When asked what she’s certain about involving the case, she replied: “Kuchma will not go to prison. I can be sure about that.”
Former police general Oleksiy Pukach is appealing his life in prison sentence for the Sept. 16, 2000 murder of journalist Georgiy Gongadze. The case has dragged on for 15 years because, critics say, political leaders did not want the criminal justice...