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Ukraine Jails Ex-Police Official for Life for Reporter Beheading

Jan. 29 (Bloomberg) -- A Ukrainian court sentenced a former Interior Ministry official to life in prison for killing Georgiy Gongadze, a reporter whose headless body was found in 2000 and whose murder engulfed then-President Leonid Kuchma.

The Pechersk District Court in the capital, Kiev, stripped Oleksiy Pukach of his position of lieutenant-general and ordered his property confiscated, according to remarks by Judge Andriy Melnyk broadcast today on the private TV channel 5. Pukach’s lawyer Hryhoryi Demydenko said he’d appeal the ruling.

Gongadze, editor of the opposition Ukrainska Pravda news website, disappeared in September 2000. His headless body was found in a wood near Kiev almost two months later. Kuchma and Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko organized the kidnapping, a parliamentary commission unanimously ruled in September 2005, saying Volodymr Lytvyn, a former parliamentary speaker who was then presidential chief-of-staff, was also involved.

Pukach said in comments shown by TV 5 that he’d “understand the court’s ruling only when Kuchma and Lytvyn are in the cage” with him. “I told them everything during the investigation and court hearings but nobody was interested in learning the truth.”

Kuchma was implicated after his former bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko produced audio tapes in 2000 in which the former president demanded Gongadze be silenced. While Kuchma, who left office in 2004 after two terms, acknowledged that the voice on the tapes was his, he said it was a re-edited fabrication made to discredit him. He denied all accusations and criminal proceedings were dropped after a December 2011 court ruling.

Shooting Death

Kravchenko was found shot to death at his country home in March 2005, days before he was scheduled to be questioned by prosecutors. Kravchenko’s death was officially classified as suicide.

The death of Gongadze, who was 31, prompted rallies that lasted until 2002, including the construction of a tent encampment in central Kiev, a precursor to the “tent city” formed during the so-called Orange Revolution in 2004 that helped overturn President Viktor Yanukovych’s election victory.

Pukach, who was on the run for six years, has been in custody since his arrest on July 21, 2009. As regards the motive for Gongadze’s murder, “ask Kuchma and Lytvyn,” he said today. Lytvyn denies any involvement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Daryna Krasnolutska in Kiev at dkrasnolutsk@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Balazs Penz at bpenz@bloomberg.net

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