KIEV – A Ukrainian court on Tuesday sentenced a former senior Interior Ministry official to life in prison for strangling critical journalist Georgy Gongadze in 2000, the highest-profile criminal case in the country’s post-Soviet history.
Olexiy Pukach, the former head of external surveillance at the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, is the most senior figure to be jailed over the killing of the journalist who was vehemently opposed to then-President Leonid Kuchma.
But many observers said that the masterminds of Gongadze’s murder may never be brought to justice and Pukach indicated Tuesday that those who ordered the killing had not been punished.
“The court came to a conclusion of the necessity for Pukach to serve punishment in the form of life imprisonment,” said the verdict read out by the judge at the Ukrainian capital Kiev’s Pechersky district court.
When asked by the judge whether the verdict was clear to him, Pukach said: “The verdict will be clear to me only when Kuchma and Lytvyn are sitting next to me.”
Kuchma was Ukraine’s president between 1994 and 2005 while his ex-chief of staff, Volodymyr Lytvyn, served as speaker in the last Parliament.
Both have always vehemently denied involvement in the slaying. In 2011, Kuchma was charged with involvement in the murder but the case was dropped.