Ukraine's former president defiant as he is questioned over reporter's murder

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The Independent Online

Ukraine's former president Leonid Kuchma yesterday denied involvement in the decade-old murder of an investigative reporter.

Mr Kuchma vowed to prove his innocence as he appeared at the prosecutor's office to be questioned over the killing of Heorhiy Gongadze, who was kidnapped, beaten, strangled and decapitated in 2000.

Prosecutors say Mr Kuchma is suspected of giving illegal orders that led to the journalist's death. Opponents and rights groups have accused Mr Kuchma of involvement in the killing based on tape recordings in which a voice that sounded like his is heard complaining about the journalist and suggesting subordinates "deal" with the problem. Prosecutors have declared those tapes authentic.

"I am calm, I say that honestly. I am calm because I don't feel my guilt," Mr Kuchma, 72, told reporters. "I am morally ready go through all the circles of hell in order to prove that I am innocent."

The criminal proceedings against Mr Kuchma, who served as Ukraine's president from 1994 to 2005, represent an unexpected twist in a 10-year investigation that, Gongadze's family claim, was not being carried out thoroughly. Three former police officers were convicted of involvement in the murder and given lengthy jail terms in 2008.