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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Suspect Arrested in Gongadze Killing

APGongadze in Kiev in August 2000, a month before his abduction and killing.

KIEV — Ukrainian authorities have arrested a former intelligence official in the slaying of an investigative journalist who was kidnapped and decapitated nine years ago, officials said Wednesday.

Opponents and rights groups accused then-President Leonid Kuchma of involvement in the 2000 slaying of reporter Heorhiy Gongadze, who had written about corruption allegations against high-ranking officials.

The killing sparked months of protests against Kuchma after a key witness released tape recordings in which voices that sounded like those of Kuchma and others could be heard discussing how to deal with Gongadze.

Kuchma has denied involvement in the killing, but the arrest late Tuesday of Olexiy Pukach, chief of the Interior Ministry’s surveillance department at the time of the slaying, is likely to bolster suspicions of high-level complicity.

President Viktor Yushchenko has vowed to fight corruption and pledged to bring the killers to justice, and the arrest came during a visit from U.S. Vice President Joe Biden. Ukrainian officials denied that there was any connection.

Vasyl Hrytsak, deputy head of the national security service, showed reporters video of a man who appeared to be Pukach acknowledging “direct” involvement in Gongadze’s killing.

The suspect is shown lying face down on the grass in handcuffs before turning to face the camera and being asked by an agent whether he had any involvement in Gongadze’s murder. The detainee, a burly man with salt-and-pepper hair, mustache and beard replies that he had “direct” involvement.

The reporter’s body was found outside Kiev several months after he disappeared in September 2000.

Prosecutors believe that Pukach strangled Gongadze after three police officials who worked in Pukach’s department at the time brought the victim to the place where he was killed, said Yuriy Boichenko, a spokesman for the Prosecutor General’s Office.

The three police officials were convicted of murder last year. Two received 12-year prison sentences, and the third got 13 years.

Pukach was initially detained in 2003 in connection with the investigation but was released soon afterward on a pledge not leave the country and had been in hiding ever since, security officials said.

Hrytsak described Pukach as the main organizer of the crime but would not elaborate.

Hrytsak said Pukach has named people he claims ordered Gongadze’s murder, but he would not release the names or give any other details, citing investigators’ orders. Pukach also promised to show investigators where Gongadze’s head is located, according to Hrytsak.

Gongadze’s family believes that

officials of a higher rank than Pukach were behind the killing and has urged the government to continue the investigation.