CPJ seeks independent investigation of Gongadze case
NEW YORK - In the wake of allegations linking President Leonid Kuchma and two top aides to the September 16 disappearance of independent journalist Heorhii Gongadze, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on December 14 urged President Kuchma and his government to avoid the appearance of impropriety by appointing an independent prosecutor to lead the investigation.
"President Kuchma has a responsibility to ensure that any crime that may have been committed in his name is investigated by authorities whose objectivity cannot be called into question," said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. "For this reason, we urge the president to appoint an independent prosecutor with a mandate to investigate the case, find the perpetrators, and bring them to trial."
The allegations were made by Oleksander Moroz, the leader of the Socialist Party and a longtime rival of President Kuchma. On November 28, Mr. Moroz released tape recordings of what he claimed were conversations between President Kuchma, Presidential Chief of Staff Volodymyr Lytvyn, and Internal Minister Yurii Kravchenko.
On the tape, three male voices discuss various ways of "dealing" with Mr. Gongadze, a Ukrainian journalist whose Internet news site, Ukrainska Pravda (www.pravda.com.ua) had exposed corruption scandals involving Mr. Kuchma, senior intelligence officials and local business leaders. In casual, profanity-laced tones, they discuss undercover surveillance, deporting him back to his native Georgia, prosecuting him in Ukraine or having a group of Chechens kidnap him.
The speakers are clearly concerned about Mr. Gongadze's journalism. "You give me this same one at Ukrainska Pravda and ... we will start to decide what to do with him," one says. "He's simply gone too far."
English translations of excerpts from the tape are posted on the website of the Kyiv Post at http://www.kpnews.com/main.php.
Mr. Moroz claimed he received the tapes in mid-October from a former officer of the Special Communication Detachment of the Security Service of Ukraine who was responsible for communications security within President Kuchma's office, the Kyiv Post reported. Mr. Moroz initially refused to identify this officer and said he had delayed releasing the tapes until late November in order to have them authenticated by foreign experts, and to give the source's family time to leave the country.
While the tape has yet to be definitively authenticated by a neutral third party, it seems credible for several reasons, according to a CPJ source close to the investigation who did not wish to be identified. The informal manner of speaking and frequent use of expletives match President Kuchma's conversational style. Also, researchers from the Dutch Institute of Applied Scientific Research, hired by a Dutch tabloid to evaluate the tapes, concluded that the recordings had not been doctored, although they were unable to conclusively identify the voices, the Kyiv Post reported.
And, while National Deputy Moroz is a bitter rival of President Kuchma, he is known to be relatively cautious in making accusations against other politicians, particularly the president.
The government's agitated response to the scandal has only fueled public suspicion. A presidential spokesman denied Mr. Moroz's allegations on the same day that he made them. Meanwhile, a local prosecutor announced he was launching a criminal investigation into Mr. Moroz's "insults and slander" against President Kuchma.
Mr. Gongadze was a pioneer among Ukrainian journalists in that he chose to publish his work on the Internet. Because Ukrainska Pravda did not depend on paper supplies and printing presses, bureaucrats found it harder to interfere with its distribution. But, like the few other investigative journalists in Ukraine who have dared to criticize the government, Mr. Gongadze faced frequent harassment and intimidation.
Copyright © The Ukrainian Weekly, December 24, 2000, No. 52, Vol. LXVIII
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