Ukrainian authorities say a former senior Interior Ministry official arrested in the sensational 2000 murder of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze has confessed to the killing and has also implicated top government officials.
Ukrainian authorities arrested fugitive Interior Ministry General Oleksiy Pukach late Tuesday in a village in Central Ukraine. Pukach headed the ministry's surveillance unit when journalist and government critic Heorhiy Gongadze was murdered on September 16, 2000.
The Deputy Chief of Ukraine's State Security Service, Vasyl Hrytsak, told a news conference in Kyiv that Pukach has confessed to the crime.
The official says details of Pukach's testimony may only be shared by the investigator. But most importantly, says Hrytsak, Pukach confirms his role in the crime and that of separate government officials already suspected by law enforcement, and he also provided other testimony of interest to the investigation.
Gongadze founded Ukrainska Pravda, or The Ukrainian Truth, an independent Internet publication, which is still online. He was kidnapped and driven outside Kyiv, where his beaten and decapitated body was found in a shallow grave in November of 2000. Hrytsak indicates Pukach knows the location of the victim's head.
Also that year, the speaker of the Ukrainian Parliament, Oleksander Moroz, produced secret recordings of former President Leonid Kuchma, in which he indirectly suggests to his chief of staff and an unnamed official that Gongadze be eliminated.
The former chief of staff, Volodymyr Lytvyn, is Ukraine's current speaker. But despite several analyses of the recordings, their reliability as evidence remains in question.
Last year, Oleksander Moroz said Mr. Kuchma was not involved in the killing, but accused advisors instead. But suspicion of murder undermined the second term of Mr. Kuchma's presidency, which also eroded amid charges of widespread corruption in his administration.
Three policemen were arrested and sentenced as accomplices in the Gongadze murder, but the name of the person or persons who ordered the killing are not known. Mr. Kuchma's successor, Viktor Yushchenko, had been widely criticized for failure to fulfill a pledge at the start of his term in 2005 that the Gongadze case would be solved within six months.
Mr. Yushchenko cautions the investigation is still not complete.
The Ukrainian leader says he gave an order yesterday and repeated it today, to make sure not a hair falls from the head of Pukach, and that the suspect be held in a place that is controlled every second to make sure he lives.
Former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko, also implicated in the secret recording, was found dead in 2005 with two bullet holes in his head in what investigators said was a suicide. Kravchenko had been scheduled to testify in the Gongadze case.
Pukach disappeared in 2003 and was thought to have fled the country. He was subsequently charged in absentia for Gongadze's murder.