Infamous Case Arrives In Court

The trial of three former Interior Ministry officers accused of involvement in the 2000 assassination of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze opened today in the Ukrainian capital.

Valeriy Kostenko, Mykola Protasov and Oleksandr Popovych appeared before the Kyiv Appeals Court.

Citing the "tense" atmosphere of the debate and the difficult working conditions within the court, presiding judge Iryna Grygoryeva ordered a 45-minute recess shortly after the session began. It was unclear if and when the proceedings resumed.

Reports from Kyiv say dozens of relatives, lawyers, and prosecutors were packing the tiny courtroom, which was too small to hold the crowd of reporters covering the event.

Journalists tried to force their way into the room during the recess, arguing that the hearings were open to the public and that all media should be allowed to attend the trial.

Trial 'Not Enough'

Among those attending the trial is Gongadze's widow Myroslava, who arrived yesterday from the United States.

Addressing reporters outside the courtroom, she said those truly responsible for her husband's killing have not yet been arrested.

"I don't think this [trial] is enough, because these [three]people had no personal motives for killing Heorhiy," Gongadze said. "They were carrying out a criminal order. They had the option of not carrying it out. They could have saved their honor and they could have refused to follow the order, but they killed Heorhiy and they must be punished. The next step will be when the organizers of this crime are brought to justice. Their identities are known and they must be punished along with the people sitting in the dock today."

In comments made later to RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, Myroslava Gongadze accused former Interior Ministry Oleksiy Pukach of being one of the main organizers behind her husband's killing.

"Pukach directly issued orders," she said. "Pukach took a direct part in this assassination. So far, nothing has been said [in court] about those who ordered the killing, and we intend to invite many witnesses who will be able to shed a lot of light on this case, even in this court session."

Pukach is wanted in Ukraine, but remains at large. His whereabouts are unknown.

Denials From The Top

Many in Ukraine suspect former President Leonid Kuchma and other top officials of orchestrating the murder of Gongadze, who wrote about high-level corruption. Kuchma denies the accusations.

Current President Viktor Yushchenko, who took over from Kuchma following the 2004-2005 Orange Revolution, has publicly vowed to resolve the Gongadze case, calling it a priority.

But Gongadze's mother Lesya has refused to the attend today's court hearings, saying she no longer has faith in the Ukrainian justice system.

In comments made yesterday, she said she was disappointed with a 19 December preliminary hearing at which the judge reportedly turned down her request for an additional probe to help find those responsible for organizing the killing.

But Lesya Gongadze's lawyer, Andriy Fedur, told reporters he attached great importance to today's court session.

"For me, it will be very important to see what kind of statements will be made and what kind of questions will be asked, whether the trial will be the same as it was on the 19th, when the prosecutor acted as the main defender of the accused, or whether it will finally consider the real subject," Fedur said. "So, for me personally, this will be a key court hearing."

The 31-year-old Gongadze was abducted in 2000. His beheaded body was discovered in a forest near Kyiv.

Gongadze's murder is believed to have played a key role in eroding public support for Kuchma and his government.


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