U.S. Help Sought in Probe of Ukranian Journalist's Murder

By: (AP) Experts from the United States should help examine the authenticity of audio recordings possibly implicating Ukraine's former president in the death of a journalist, an envoy from Europe's top human rights group said Friday.

Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger, from the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, said the United States would be the ideal location for an examination of secret tapes made by one of former President Leonid Kuchma's bodyguards, who fled to America after revealing the recordings.

Ukrainian and U.S. investigators should jointly inspect the recordings to settle speculation about their authenticity, she said after meeting top Ukrainian officials investigating Heorhiy Gongadze's death. The Internet journalist who wrote about high-level corruption disappeared in Kiev in September 2000. His headless corpse was found months later buried outside the capital.

The killing precipitated months of protests against Kuchma, whom the opposition accused of involvement.

In the tapes, a voice resembling Kuchma's is heard repeatedly complaining about Gongadze's reports and ordering staff members to deal with the journalist. Kuchma has denied the allegations and questioned the recordings' authenticity.

Kuchma's former bodyguard, Mykola Melnichenko, fled Ukraine after revealing the tapes and was later granted political asylum in the United States. The recordings contain about 700 hours of material allegedly from Kuchma's office, but only 35 hours have been made public.

Since becoming president earlier this year, Viktor Yushchenko has made the Gongadze investigation -- which long sat dormant under Kuchma's administration -- a priority.

Prosecutors have charged two former police officials with murder in connection with Gongadze's death and questioned Kuchma. They also offered security guarantees for Melnichenko to return to Ukraine to testify.

Yushchenko said earlier that he is ready to meet with Melnichenko when he visits the United States next week.

Meanwhile, the Interfax news agency, citing a former Russian security service officer, reported that former Ukrainian Defense Minister Yevhen Marchuk recruited Melnichenko to secretly record conversations in Kuchma's office.

Marchuk, who was fired by Kuchma last year, could not be reached for comment Friday and the report could not be independently verified.


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