Journalist's Murder Unsolved in Ukraine

Other News Materials 13 September 2007 00:29 (UTC +04:00)

(US news) MOSCOW (AP) -- Media freedom advocates harshly criticized Ukrainian authorities Wednesday for a lack of progress in the inquiry into the murder of an investigative journalist seven years ago.

Three former police officers have faced trial in connection with the killing of Heorhiy Gongadze , whose beheaded body was found in a forest outside Kiev in 2000, but the probe has failed to track down the mastermind.

"This is the biggest question today: If there is a planned campaign of political obstruction? And we believe that there is," Jim Boumelha , the president of the International Federation of Journalists, said at a news conference.

Gongadze crusaded against official corruption. His killing triggered months of protests after Mykola Melnychenko , a former bodyguard to then-President Leonid Kuchma , released tape recordings in which voices resembling those of Kuchma and others were heard conspiring against the journalist.

Western-leaning President Viktor Yushchenko has pledged to make solving the killing a top priority, but no one has been convicted.

Press freedom watchdogs have particularly criticized Yushchenko for giving a state medal to the nation's former Prosecutor General, Mykhailo Potebenko . Gongadze appealed to Potebenko shortly before his murder when he realized he was being followed, but the prosecutor ignored his plea.

"There are people who try to cover up (for) their colleagues - this is the only explanation I can give," Gongadze's widow, Myroslava , said when asked to comment on the stalled official probe.

Melnychenko fled in 2000 to the United States, where he was granted political asylum, but he later returned to Ukraine to testify.

Seven years ago, Gongadze got into what he thought was a taxi, and was then joined by three others and driven outside Kiev, according to the suspects. He was beaten and strangled, his body doused with gasoline and burned. Experts said Gongadze was decapitated after his death.

Numerous tests have concluded the remains are Gongadze's . His head has not been found.