Mykola Melnychenko, a former security officer who claims to have secretly recorded conversations that implicate Ukrainian ex-president Leonid Kuchma in the murder of an opposition journalist, is currently in the United States, his lawyers said on Friday.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s Office earlier announced that it had put Melnychenko on the nation's wanted list, but does not have information that he has left the country.
“I am sure that Mykola [Melnichenko] will return to Ukraine, but only when all obstacles to his presence here are removed and when the threat to his life is removed,” lawyer Mykola Nedylko said. “I believe this threat will be removed soon.”
Another lawyer for Melnichenko, Pavel Sychov, said his client left Ukraine in early October.
Shortly after journalist Georgy Gongadze’s decapitated body was found in a forest near Kiev in November 2000, Melnychenko released a tape which he had allegedly recorded in the ex-president's office.
Ukrainian prosecutors in March opened a criminal case against Kuchma on suspicion of his involvement in the journalist's murder.
Kuchma has denied any involvement and said he is ready to stand trial to prove he is innocent of the journalist's murder.
In June 2008, three former employees of the Interior Ministry's criminal investigations department were found guilty of murdering Gongadze. The officers said they killed the journalist on orders from the former head of the ministry's criminal investigations department, Lt. Gen. Oleksiy Pukach.
Pukach was arrested in the summer of 2009 and is now awaiting trial.
In September, prosecutors said Yuriy Kravchenko, interior minister in 2000, was also responsible for ordering the murder. Kravchenko purportedly committed suicide in 2005.