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Ukraine21 May 2002

Man accused of murdering Alexandrov is acquitted - Reporters Without Borders pleased at exposure of errors in enquiry

Yuri Veredyuk, the homeless man accused of murdering Ukrainian journalist Igor Alexandrov in July 2001, was acquitted on 17 May by the Donetsk regional court, sitting in the eastern town of Slaviansk. The judge said there was "no proof" he had anything to do with the murder.

Reporters Without Borders, which has criticised over the past few months the lack of seriousness in the investigation, is pleased at this verdict. The charges against Veredyuk were entirely invented without any proof he was involved and his contradictory "confessions" were extracted under duress. The grave flaws in the preliminary investigation were only exposed thanks to the persistence of Alexandrov’s family and their lawyer, who was found for them by Reporters Without Borders and the Institute of Mass Information (IMI) in Kiev.

"The investigation has been a farce up to now," said Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard. "This verdict opens the way to a serious enquiry, focusing on the threats Alexandrov had been getting in connection with his probes into corruption and organised crime in the region. Those who killed him must be found," he added.

Alexandrov, general manager of the Slaviansk TV station TOR, was beaten over the head by strangers with baseball bats at the entrance to the station’s offices on 3 July 2001 and died in hospital from severe head injuries on 7 July.

In 1998, he had been sentenced to two years in prison and banned from working as a journalist for five years after being sued by member of parliament Olexandr Leshchynsky, who he had called "the vodka king of the Donbass" industrial area of eastern Ukraine. In 2000, the case was dropped after Leshchinsky withdrew his complaint, but Alexandrov tried to get the legal authorities to annul the conviction, admit the prosecution’s error and award him moral damages.

Deputy general prosecutor Sergiy Vinokurov announced on 14 September last year that the suspected murderer had confessed. Alexandrov’s son Alexiy criticised the many flaws in the investigation and said he knew of an anonymous letter saying his father had material (CD-Roms, tapes and photos) about ties between local officials and criminal elements.

In subsequent weeks, Alexiy said, the family was watched and subjected to psychological pressure. He accused the lawyer in charge of the case, Olexiy Glotov, of taking two computer diskettes, two video cassettes and three audio tapes from the family home the day after Alexandrov was attacked and not keeping them for the purposes of the case. On 26 September, Alexiy noticed that all material about his father’s disappearance had been removed from his computer, including the addresses and phone numbers of his contacts.

On 23 October, the head of the parliamentary commission of enquiry, Anatoly Khemlevy, said the investigation had "not been carried out in a professional manner." A new lawyer hired by Reporters Without Borders managed to get Alexandrov’s son Alexiy recognised as a party in the case, which had hitherto been refused, and that the trial open within 20 days after the end of the preliminary enquiry as the law demands.

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