Ukraine2 June 2009
Potential witness’s death deals severe blow to probe into journalist’s murder
Reporters Without Borders regrets that Gen. Edvard Fere, a potential key witness in the investigation into the disappearance and murder of online journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000, died yesterday in hospital after six years in a coma without ever being questioned by the police.
Gen. Fere, who fell into a coma after suffering a heart attack in 2003, acted as chief of staff for President Leonid Kuchma’s interior minister, Yuri Kravchenko, from 1995 to 2001. He was also a close associate of one of Gongadze’s presumed murderers, former interior ministry intelligence chief Gen. Olexi Pukach, for whom an international arrest warrant has been issued.
“Gen. Fere’s death is a serious blow for the investigation into the Gongadze murder but the judicial authorities have other ways to establish the truth,” Reporters Without Borders said. “We deplore the lack of political will to solve this murder that has so far been displayed by the Ukrainian authorities.”
A 31-year old investigative reporter who had often written often about corruption in President Kuchma’s government, Gongadze was kidnapped from his Kiev apartment building on September 16, 2000. A headless body and a skull found in a forest near Kiev six weeks later were eventually identified as his.
Gen. Fere was suspected of being the intermediary between those who ordered Gongadze’s murder and those who organised its execution, including Gen. Pukach. The prosecutor’s office had made three unsuccessful attempts to question him.
Three former police officers - Mykola Protasov, Oleksandr Popovich and Valeri Kostenko - were convicted last year of carrying out Gongadze’s murder on Gen. Pukach’s orders. Their sentences, 13 years in prison for Protasov and 12 years in prison for the other two, have been confirmed by the supreme court. Gen. Pukach is still a fugitive from justice and is believed to be abroad.
The prosecutor’s office is supposedly still pursuing a second phase of the investigation, consisting of identifying and prosecuting those who ordered Gongadze’s murder. Tape recordings made by the former president’s bodyguard, Mykola Melnishenko, which could compromise very senior former officials, are still awaiting formal examination by an expert.