A FORMER Ukrainian police officer has been jailed for life for the 2000 murder of an opposition journalist – but he implied that other officials, including former president Leonid Kuchma, were equally guilty of the crime.
Police general Oleksiy Pukach is the fourth person to be sentenced over the murder of Georgiy Gongadze, 31, a campaigning editor who wrote of political corruption and crime at a time when the authorities in the former Soviet republic kept a tight rein on the media.
His headless body was found in woods a month and a half after he was abducted in the centre of the capital Kiev, sparking huge street demonstrations which marked a turning point in Mr Kuchma’s ten-year rule.
Pukach was on the run for four years before being arrested in July 2009 – a year after a Ukrainian court handed out jail terms of 12 and 13 years to three other former police officers for their part in Mr Gongadze’s killing.
When a judge asked Pukach if he had understood the sentence, he replied: “I’ll understand it better when Kuchma and [then presidential chief of staff Volodymyr] Lytvyn are seated here alongside me.”
Mr Gongadze’s killing shook Mr Kuchma’s rule and helped stoke popular anger against sleaze and corruption, leading to the 2004 “Orange Revolution” street protests which overturned the old order.
In March 2011, the general prosecutor’s office opened a criminal case against Mr Kuchma, who still lives in Kiev, on suspicion of giving illegal orders to senior interior ministry officials leading to the journalist’s murder. But a court later that year ruled the prosecutor’s case against Mr Kuchma as unlawful.