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Ukraine ex-leader rejects new claims over journalist murder

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Ukraine's former president Leonid Kuchma on Thursday described as a "provocation" new claims by prosecutors they had evidence implicating him in the murder of critical journalist Georgy Gongadze.

Kuchma compared the Ukrainian deputy prosecutor who made the claims to the Soviet prosecutor Andrei Vyshinsky who was behind the arbitrary justice of Stalin's murderous 1930s purges.

Ukraine's deputy prosecutor general Renat Kuzmin had said there was now "enough evidence confirming Kuchma's involvement in" the murder of Gongadze in 2000, the country's most notorious post-Soviet crime.

"This is the umpteenth banal provocation," said Kuchma, who served as president from 1994 to 2005, told reporters in Kharkiv.

"I was reading a newspaper in the plane: there's a scientific theory that the souls of people who lived before get passed on to today's people," he said, quoted by the Interfax news agency.

"Its seems that one of Stalin's henchmen like Vyshinsky got into the soul of our prosecutor. That's why we get this," he added.

Kuzmin had told Moscow Echo radio the day earlier that prosecutors were carrying out an investigation and collecting more possible evidence into Kuchma's alleged involvement.

The announcement surprised observers given that Kuchma was in 2011 charged with involvement in the murder but the case was then thrown out by a Kiev court when it went to trial.

"Kuzmin is in the process of ruining the image of the prosecutors and transforming them into a tool for intimidating society and creating an atmosphere of terror in Ukraine," said Kuchma.

Former senior interior ministry official Olexiy Pukach was sentenced to life in prison last month for strangling Gongadze to death but sensationally accused Kuchma and his former chief of staff Volodymyr Lytvyn in court after being convicted.

"The verdict will be clear to me only when Kuchma and Lytvyn are sitting next to me," Pukach said at the time.

Gongadze was the founder of the Ukrainska Pravda news site that is now one of Ukraine's loudest opposition media voices.

His supporters had long argued that the murder was ordered at a very high level.

They point to tapes recorded by a former bodyguard of Kuchma and made public in 2000 where voices alleged to be of the former president and Lytvyn are heard speaking about eliminating Gongadze.

Kuchma has his roots in the Dnepropetrovsk region of central Ukraine, like jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko who was a ally until they fell out after the Gongadze murder.

Tymoshenko is serving a seven-year jail sentence for abuse of power but is also accused by prosecutors of organising the 1996 murder of a deputy from the Donetsk region that is the stronghold of President Viktor Yanukovych.

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http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130221/ukraine-ex-leader-rejects-new-claims-over-journalist-murder