KIEV, January 29 (RIA Novosti) – Ukraine's former Interior Ministry General Oleksiy Pukach has been sentenced to life in prison after a Ukrainian court on Tuesday found him guilty of murdering opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000.
The Pechersky District Court in Kiev also found Pukach guilty of having killed the journalist while trying to make him admit to being a foreign spy. Gongadze failed to confess, though admitting he had collected data for the US Embassy.
Pukach said he just wanted to frighten Gongadze, but the belt around his neck accidentally tightened and he died. He then beheaded the journalist.
“The fact that Pukach exceeded his authority and killed has been proved by the evidence,” Judge Andriy Melnik said.
On hearing the verdict, Pukach said: “I will understand the verdict only when [Leonid] Kuchma and [Volodymyr] Litvin are also jailed.”
The court also ordered Pukach to pay $62,500 in moral damages to the late journalist's family.
Pukach's lawyer Georgiy Demidenko dismissed the verdict as “too harsh,” saying he would appeal it.
Gongadze, an outspoken critic of then-president Kuchma, was kidnapped, and his headless body was found months later in a forest in September 2000.
The slaying shocked Ukraine and sparked massive street protests.
Three policemen were jailed for the murder in 2008.
Shortly after the killing, hidden camera recordings were released in which former President Leonid Kuchma was allegedly heard discussing ways to get rid of the reporter with late former Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko.
Pukach, the head of the ministry's surveillance department at the time of the murder, was arrested in 2009 after six years on the run.
Pukach said he killed the journalist on the orders of Kravchenko. Kravchenko purportedly committed suicide in 2005. Pukach also accused Kuchma and ex-parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn of having masterminded the assassination.
In June 2012, Ukraine’s High Specialized Court for Civil and Criminal Cases upheld the legality of dropping murder charges against ex-President Leonid Kuchma.