Minister cited in reporter's killing found dead

Click to follow
The Independent Online

The fallout from the murder of a campaigning journalist in Ukraine took another twist when a former interior minister, named by The Independent in June as the mastermind in the killing, apparently committed suicide by shooting himself.

The fallout from the murder of a campaigning journalist in Ukraine took another twist when a former interior minister, named by The Independent in June as the mastermind in the killing, apparently committed suicide by shooting himself.

General Yuriy Kravchenko was found dead yesterday, at his luxury country home outside Kiev. That morning he was to be interviewed by investigators from the Prosecutor General's office looking into the murder of Georgiy Gongadze. The authorities are not ruling out the possibility that the former minister was also murdered.

Mr Gongadze's headless corpse was discovered in Kiev in November 2000, weeks after he disappeared. Leonid Kuchma, the former president, was heard on secret recordings apparently instructing colleagues to "take care" of Mr Gongadze because of his journalism exposing high-level corruption, which pointed to Mr Kuchma himself. While Mr Kuchma was in power the investigation into the death stalled.

The case was reopened after The Independent published leaked documents showing that police had followed Mr Gongadze until the moment of his disappearance and that police were probably involved in his abduction.

The documents showed that Mr Kuchma's administration had blocked the investigation and included an autopsy report on the body of a key witness, Ihor Honcharov, who died in custody, showing he was beaten and injected with a drug. Mr Honcharov had claimed that the murder was ordered by General Kravchenko, who as Interior Minister commanded the police. He added that the general was obeying the president's order.

Mr Gongadze became a symbol for the opposition against Mr Kuchma's authoritarian 10-year rule and his name was a rallying call during the orange revolution, which brought to power President Viktor Yushchenko.

Mr Yushchenko, inaugurated six weeks ago, promised to bring Mr Gongadze's killers to justice. Earlier this week, investigators arrested three senior police officers and are seeking a fourth person, believed to be in Russia. Authorities said the three detained were directly involved.

Petro Kolyada, the Deputy Interior Minister, increased suspicion that the general may have been murdered, saying that at least two bullets had been fired at the scene and General Kravchenko was found with two wounds. The authorities have launched a criminal inquiry into the apparently self-inflicted deaths of two others linked to the former government, to find out if they were "assisted suicides" aimed at eliminating anyone suspected of willingness to talk about alleged crimes committed by the Kuchma adminsitration.

Julia Tymoshenko, the Prime Minister, said: "If [General Kravchenko] truly took his own life it means he was guilty of responsibility for those acts connected with Gongadze's murder. If it was not suicide, then I believe it was an attempt to conceal information on the murder."

Mr Kuchma is on vacation in the Czech Republic and expected to return next week. Mrs Tymoshenko, once jailed by Mr Kuchma, suggested that, in view of the suspicious deaths, he should be taken into protective custody on his return.

Comments