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Did a Death Squad kill journalist Gongadze in Sept 2000?

Writing in "RFE/RL's Newsline" on 22 August, Taras Kuzio highlighted news on recent evidence of Ukrainian death squads and their possible involvement in the murder of Georgian-Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze in September 2000.

According to Kuzio, the Kyiv newpaper "Segodnya," owned by Tax Administration and Donbas clan head Mykola Azarov, published a report on 1 August claiming that death squads have existed in Ukraine since 1996. The new Ukrainian prosecutor-general, Svyatoslav Piskun, and Interior Ministry State Secretary Oleksandr Gapon subsequently confirmed that at least one such squad exists. Gapon said the death squad comprises nine members and includes the former head of Kyiv's Interior Ministry directorate for the struggle against organized crime and another Interior Ministry colonel. The remaining members are former criminals. According to Gapon, all members of the squad are now in custody.

The death squad is accused of undertaking 10 murders. According to later official information, similar death squads also existed in Odesa and Lviv. Nine former Interior Ministry militiamen are soon to go on trial in Kharkiv, accused of belonging to a death squad that operated in that city and the Donbas. That squad is accused of committing eight murders with their own service weapons. The Prosecutor-General's Office is investigating another 330 Interior Ministry personnel for a range of offenses. According to Gapon, an investigation into the activities of death squads began in 2000, but the material that was collected was only handed to the Prosecutor-General's Office this year.

In 2000, the head of the Kyiv Interior Ministry department, Yuriy Smyrnov, hinted that one such death squad existed. In May 2001, then-Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko claimed that a Kyiv organized-crime boss told his office that two members of his gang had taken a Georgian, who they said may have been Heorhiy Gongadze, to a forest near Kyiv on 16 September 2000 because he owed them money.

(RFE/RL 23.viii.02)

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