Frontline World

About the Series


ANNOUNCER: Tonight on FRONTLINE/World, two Stories From a SmallPlanet. In Peru:

LARRY KURLANDER, Fmr. VP, Newmont Mining Co.: Nobody had any idea how big this was going to be.

ANNOUNCER: In the midst of a new global gold rush, an American company high in the Andes is entangled in a web of international intrigue–

LOWELL BERGMAN, Correspondent: He was America’s man?

ANTOINE BLANCA, Fmr. French Ambassador to Peru: He was a CIA man.

ANNOUNCER: –toxic chemicals–

LOWELL BERGMAN: The word that stops me is cyanide.

ANNOUNCER: –and rebellion. In a joint investigation with The New York Times, correspondent Lowell Bergman uncovers The Curse of Inca Gold.

And in Ukraine: Her husband’s assassination sparked a revolution, but the unsolved murder still haunts the country.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: The politicians would like to make people believe that this struggle us over, but I’m not sure about it yet.

ANNOUNCER: A widow goes back to Kyiv with the hope that the new president will help solve her husband’s murder.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: There is still danger here, but I hope things have changed.

Peru: The Curse of Inca Gold

Reported by Lowell Bergman

LOWELL BERGMAN, Correspondent: [voice-over] High in the Andean mountains of Peru, this land was once part of the Inca empire. It’s where the Spanish came 500 years ago, hunting for gold. And it’s gold that brings me and a team from The New York Times to the town of Cajamarca, where the descendants of the Incas remain suspicious of outsiders to this day.

We’re here to investigate a growing conflict between the local people and one of the most profitable gold mines in the world. It’s called Yanacocha, a gold mine run by Newmont Mining of Denver, Colorado, the largest gold mining company in the world. In the language of the local Indians, Yanacocha means “black lake,” but the lake is long gone, a casualty of this massive mining operation.

Today Yanacocha is spread across more than 60 square miles at altitudes as high as 14,000 feet.

[on camera] How many billions of dollars are invested in this site?

BRANT HINZE, General Mgr., Yanacocha Mine: Oh, we’re close to $2 billion right now.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] I met Brant Hinze, the general manager of the mine.

BRANT HINZE: Now, we are currently the largest producing gold mine in Peru, in South America, and currently in the world.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So far, Yanacocha has produced $7 billion worth of gold.

We were given rare access to what is known as “the gold room.”

TOUR LEADER: We are smelting molten metal. This is to protect against any other vapors–

LOWELL BERGMAN: It is here where the ore is melted at a temperature of 2,000 degrees, and the gold is separated from impurities. The liquid gold flows into molds, where it forms into bars and it emerges as a crude brick weighing 28 pounds. Each bar is worth more than $180,000. There’s a tradition among gold miners. They say, “If you can lift a brick with one hand, it’s yours to keep.”

[ A primer on gold]

Just before my visit, Yanacocha celebrated the pouring of its 19 millionth ounce. But behind the company’s success story is a dark and troubled history, with allegations of corruption and bribery. It goes back over a decade and happened here in Lima, the capital of Peru. It’s a story that provides a rare behind-the-scenes look at how a multi-national company does business in a developing country rife with corruption.

It begins in 1994, during the presidency of Alberto Fujimori. Back then, the original owners of the Yanacocha mine were Newmont, Buenaventura – a Peruvian company – and a French government-owned company, BRGM. The partnership collapsed when the French tried to sell part of their shares to a competitor of Newmont. Newmont and Buenaventura went to court to stop them.

Billions of dollars were at stake, so Newmont sent their top troubleshooter to Peru, Larry Kurlander, a senior executive and former prosecutor.

LARRY KURLANDER, Fmr. VP, Newmont Mining Co.: The French government was behaving inappropriately in the litigation.

LOWELL BERGMAN: This is the first time that Kurlander has spoken publicly about the case.

LARRY KURLANDER: In fact, I have with my own eyes seen a letter from Jacques Chirac to President Fujimori asking for his intervention in the case.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] So what do you do?

LARRY KURLANDER: Well, you can do two things. You have two choices. You can lay down and be run over by the freight train, or you can start to fight. I chose to fight.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] The dispute went all the way to Peru’s supreme court, which was notoriously corrupt. Kurlander claims that the French were trying to bribe Peruvian politicians to influence the judges.

LARRY KURLANDER: We were at an extreme disadvantage. We have in this country the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which prohibits American companies from paying any sort of bribes.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] And so Newmont wasn’t paying any bribes.

LARRY KURLANDER: Absolutely not.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] The French embassy in Lima was deeply involved in the case, but the former ambassador, Antoine Blanca, denies they paid bribes.

[on camera] To your knowledge, did the French ever pay bribes to any judges or anyone in the government?

ANTOINE BLANCA, Fmr. French Ambassador to Peru: No.


ANTOINE BLANCA: Never. Myself? Never. People under my control? Never.

LOWELL BERGMAN: So who paid the bribes?

ANTOINE BLANCA: It is Newmont, certainly.

LOWELL BERGMAN: You believe Newmont paid bribes?

ANTOINE BLANCA: I believe. I believe that. I can’t affirm it.

LOWELL BERGMAN: You can’t prove it?

ANTOINE BLANCA: I can’t prove it.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Kurlander says the French can’t prove it because Newmont didn’t do it.

LARRY KURLANDER: Yes. What we wanted to do was level the playing field. That was extremely important to us. We knew– I mean, I was very confident that we would win on the merits, but if there was inappropriate behavior, we couldn’t win.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Larry Kurlander’s campaign to win the case would lead him to the notorious Peruvian spymaster, President Fujimori’s right-hand man, Vladimiro Montesinos.

MIRKO LAUER, Newspaper Columnist: He was the man to know in Lima, Peru.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Mirko Lauer is a leading Peruvian journalist.

MIRKO LAUER: Vladimiro Montesinos was and is a crooked lawyer who made a short career defending drug traffickers and who became, for all practical purposes, the man in charge of the Peruvian army, of the Peruvian intelligence services, President Fujimori’s main adviser.

LOWELL BERGMAN: This is Vladimiro Montesinos in action. Peru’s intelligence chief secretly recorded most of the meetings in his office. Many of these videotapes were later leaked to the press. They revealed shocking behind-the-scenes footage of a corrupt government. The videotapes show Montesinos cutting deals, bribing officials and handing out bricks of cash.

MIRKO LAUER: He had corrupted almost all of the Peruvian army, almost all of the Peruvian politicians, most of his relatives, the governing party definitely, a few diplomats. This man had, as a sideline, the sale of privileged information and the peddling of political influence. This is where I would think that Newmont comes into the picture.

LOWELL BERGMAN: The secret recordings reveal that Newmont’s Larry Kurlander met with Montesinos here, at his intelligence headquarters, as the case was being deliberated in the supreme court.

LARRY KURLANDER: [subtitles] We have a very serious problem in Peru with our company and minera Buenaventura.

LOWELL BERGMAN: In this audiotape recording, Kurlander is asking Peru’s intelligence chief for help in dealing with the French.

LARRY KURLANDER: [subtitles] I need it especially because the other side has been acting quite strangely.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Larry Kurlander says he had no choice, he had to meet with Montesinos.

[on camera] Because?

LARRY KURLANDER: Because of the position he occupied.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Now, when you were meeting with Mr. Montesinos, before you went to see him, you must have known something about who he was, what his methods were.

LARRY KURLANDER: I heard two things. One is that he could be terribly ruthless. Two, that if the French were to be stopped, he was the only one in Peru who would dare to do it.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] During the meeting, Montesinos offers his assistance through an interpreter.

VLADIMIRO MONTESINOS: [subtitles] Tell him I’m going to help him with the voting.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And then the two men part with a pledge of loyalty.

LARRY KURLANDER: [subtitles] Now you have a friend for life.

*VLADIMIRO MONTESINOS: [subtitles] You have a friend for life also.

LARRY KURLANDER: [subtitles] OK, good. I want a friend for life.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] When you say on the transcript, “I want a friend for life,” and he responds, “You have a friend”–

LARRY KURLANDER: I don’t remember that precisely, but there was a context surrounding that where he said that he would help and– I am not sure of the exact wording of it, to be honest with you. But in substance, that’s what I said.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Montesinos was not the only one Kurlander lobbied. He also persuaded the U.S. State Department to come to the aid of Newmont.

PETER ROMERO, Fmr. Asst. Secretary of State: Our role was to tell the Peruvian government, “We want the playing field leveled,” and that the Peruvian government knows that the United States government will be watching.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Peter Romero was then the assistant secretary of state in charge of Latin America.

[on camera] You actually called Vladimiro Montesinos?


LOWELL BERGMAN: How many times did you call him, by the way?

PETER ROMERO: I think it was one or two times.

LOWELL BERGMAN: On the phone, what kind of guy is Montesinos?

PETER ROMERO: Oh, he seemed to be a nice enough fellow, seemed to take what I was saying as important.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] The French say that, unlike the Americans, they refused to deal with Montesinos because he was corrupt.

[on camera] So you’re saying Montesinos was a criminal.

ANTOINE BLANCA: A criminal, of course.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And he was America’s man?

ANTOINE BLANCA: Well, he worked for the CIA. He was a CIA man.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] According to former CIA officials, the agency was paying Montesinos’s secret police organization at least a million dollars a year for more than a decade.

Here he is seen throwing a farewell party for the CIA station chief in Peru. And on yet another videotape, Montesinos discusses the gold mine case with the same CIA agent, the man in the middle.

VLADIMIRO MONTESINOS: [subtitles] We will not allow the French company to use extortion, blackmail and other gangster methods to get what they want in the courts.

LOWELL BERGMAN: And in this, the most revealing of all the videotapes related to the case, Montesinos meets with the supreme court justice who will cast the deciding vote. He explains that Peru needs U.S. support in a border dispute with Ecuador.

VLADIMIRO MONTESINOS: [subtitles] I invoke your capacity to comprehend as a Peruvian that there are many things at stake. In these cases, one has to intervene directly.

LOWELL BERGMAN: A week later, the judge casts his vote in favor of Newmont. The French are forced to forfeit their stake, and Newmont gains a controlling interest in the Yanacocha mine.

[on camera] You understand the implications here? I mean, you seeing Montesinos, Montesinos meeting the judge, and you win.

LARRY KURLANDER: Not a single person asked for him to influence the outcome of the case. No one at any time, to my knowledge, on our side ever did that.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Looks like the United States government went to the secret police chief, maybe didn’t ask him directly, “Go talk to the judge,” but that’s how he interpreted it.

PETER ROMERO: It’s regrettable that that’s how he interpreted it because every single message that we conveyed was, “Make sure the judges are able to decide on the merits of the case.” Now, if he interpreted that as being, “We want a favorable decision for Newmont, a U.S. company,” that’s regrettable.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Not for Newmont.

PETER ROMERO: Not for Newmont. But for the purposes of the rule of law, it’s regrettable.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Three years after the case was decided, Peter Romero left the State Department and immediately went to work for Newmont.

PETER ROMERO: They thought that I was an activist individual that could help them, particularly as it relates to community-based programs and that sort of thing. And I worked for them as a consultant for about 18 months.

LOWELL BERGMAN: When the Montesinos secret videotapes surfaced on Peruvian television, they led to his downfall and the collapse of the Fujimori government.

[ More on the secret tapes]

Vladimiro Montesinos was arrested after fleeing the country and brought back to Peru to stand trial on dozens of counts of corruption.

Now, looking back, Kurlander says he regrets meeting with Montesinos.

LARRY KURLANDER: It is what it is, and the fact that you’re in a country and you’re forced to deal with a guy like this, it’s a terrible thing.

LOWELL BERGMAN: In Peru, the special prosecutor assigned by the new government to investigate judicial corruption under Montesinos was Ronald Gamarra.

RONALD GAMARRA: [subtitles] My theory is that both sides were trying to get a favorable decision by any means necessary, but only one side got to Montesinos, and that is the side that won. Montesinos has never worked for free, not even when doing political favors. He always made money.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Gamarra says that he collected evidence that indicates that both sides corrupted the courts, but each insists that the evidence against them was either unreliable or forged. Ronald Gamarra says he was taken off the case by the Peruvian attorney general before he was able to complete his investigation.

RONALD GAMARRA: [subtitles] It did not benefit either side to investigate the matter. I am sure that in a few year, the truth will come out. It will be known for certain that crimes were committed. I am sure bribes were paid.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Newmont says they did not break the law, and it’s never been proven that Newmont, the French, or the Peruvian judge were involved in any illegal activity. The United States government did investigate allegations that Newmont paid bribes, under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. But that investigation ended late last year after the Peruvian government failed to fully cooperate and the statute of limitations ran out.

Today Newmont’s Yanacocha mine is the most profitable gold mine in the history of Peru, but they are not the first foreigners to seek gold here. Five hundred years ago, it was the Spanish who came to Cajamarca. They conquered this land and captured the leader of the Inca empire, Atahualpa.

Near the central plaza there is a museum, a reconstruction of the room where the conquistadors held Atahualpa for ransom. To win his freedom, Atahualpa promised his captors to fill the room with gold, as high as he could reach. But the Spanish betrayed him. They kept the gold and they killed him anyway.

[on camera] Atahualpa fills the room with gold, the Spanish kill him and take the gold, and then today, the foreigners are back.

MIRKO LAUER, Newspaper Columnist: It’s not that they have returned and taken it. I think that’s what they’ve been doing all along with gold, with silver, with all kinds of metals and minerals.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Mirko Lauer says that’s one reason why the locals are still so distrustful of foreigners.

MIRKO LAUER: And this is the basic historical lesson of these times, no? Unhappy peoples, surrounding or watching very happy transnational corporations moving earth and digging gold.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Over the last decade, the mine has expanded, spreading across the mountaintops, now driven by the rising price of gold, which is approaching $500 an ounce.

[on camera] To get, let’s say, an ounce of gold, how much of this earth do you have to move?

BRANT HINZE, General Mgr., Yanacocha Mine: An ounce of gold will be roughly– excuse me – about 30 tons.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] In Yanacocha, they dig up half a million tons of earth each day, literally moving mountains. There are no mineshafts here. It’s an open pit mine. They are mining what’s called “invisible gold” because it’s microscopic.

BRANT HINZE: We carry the ore, the rock that has gold in it, place it on the leachpads, and then we’ll sprinkle a weak cyanide solution over the leachpads.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] And that’s the word that sort of stops me, cyanide.

BRANT HINZE: Cyanide is an industrial chemical that we use, and if you look at the mining industry, our use of this industrial chemical is state of the art.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Yanacocha is the world’s largest cyanide heap-leach mine. Management insists that cyanide here is contained on site, in these lined ponds. But the local campesinos say they don’t trust the mine to protect the environment.

We went to see the family of Miguel Garcia, a dairy farmer.

MIGUEL GARCIA: [subtitles] Over there are 100,000 square meters of pad, where there is a concentration of cyanide and other chemicals.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Mining on this scale uses massive amounts of water, and the campesinos worry that their most precious natural resource is being depleted.

MIGUEL GARCIA: [subtitles] They are destroying our water, our hills, our flora and fauna.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Trust between the campesinos and the mine really broke down here, on these perilous mountain roads. In June of 2000, a truck contracted to carry mercury from the mine accidentally spilled 330 pounds of its toxic cargo over a 25-mile stretch of road, most of it in and around this tiny village of Choropampa. The mercury, which is a toxic by-product of gold mining, was picked up by the villagers. Many thought the metal had gold in it and took it home.

YANINA: [subtitles] It was beautiful. We got some and put it in our house. No one told us it was mercury. After eight days, I started to get rashes all over my skin. I felt dizzy, nauseous, high fever, headache, all of that.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Many of the villagers ended up in hospitals. More than 1,000 people are now suing in a U.S. federal court, some alleging that they still suffer serious health problems. Afterwards, the villagers took to the streets, demanding health care and reparations.

[ Other environmental accidents]

I asked Roque Benavides, Newmont’s Peruvian partner, about the spill.

ROQUE BENAVIDES, President, Minas Buenaventura: Nobody was dead. Nobody was dead. Mercury never got to the waters. And certainly, there have been some complaints. We had an insurance policy for the whole population for five years. This will continue for another five years. So it was not all that bad.

LOWELL BERGMAN: But the mercury spill sparked protests that grew into violent clashes with police, becoming a public relations nightmare for Newmont. At company headquarters in Denver, the mercury spill was a wake-up call for Larry Kurlander. He wrote a letter to company management stating that the spill has “cost us our hard-earned reputation, a reputation that will be stained for many years to come.”

[on camera] You recommended bonuses be cut or forfeited by the officers responsible, including you. That couldn’t have been very popular.


LOWELL BERGMAN: Was it done?

LARRY KURLANDER: I would say it was not done. It was done in such a minimal way, in my opinion, as to have no impact. We had to send a message, and I don’t think we did that adequately.

[ Read the full Kurlander interview]

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] After the mercury spill, Newmont decided to investigate what was going on at the mine, and they sent Larry Kurlander back to Peru to conduct an environmental audit.

LARRY KURLANDER: There were water issues, there were air issues, there were road issues, there were health issues– all arising out of the mining operation.

LOWELL BERGMAN: We obtained a copy of the audit that Kurlander and his team produced, an audit which found 20 high-priority problems at the mine. Many of the findings confirmed the complaints of the villagers that their water was contaminated and fish were disappearing. The audit also found that waste rock at the mine had turned acidic and was generating acid run-off.

In fact, the findings were so serious that Kurlander in a memo warned that senior executives could be subject to “criminal prosecution and imprisonment.”

[on camera] The company says it operates overseas at the same standards that it would have to meet here in the United States. Correct?


LOWELL BERGMAN: OK. Were they doing that in Peru?


LOWELL BERGMAN: Were these minor violations?


LOWELL BERGMAN: What standard were they using?

LARRY KURLANDER: You’d have to ask them that question, but it was not a U.S. standard and it was not a Peruvian standard.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] We wanted to discuss the audit with Newmont CEO Wayne Murdy, but he declined our request for an interview.

For Kurlander, the audit and the company’s response to it was a personal turning point.

[on camera] You had a transformation, if you will, during this period, in terms of your perspective.

LARRY KURLANDER: I think that’s a fair statement.

LOWELL BERGMAN: In what way? Maybe you could describe that.

LARRY KURLANDER: Well, you know, we all understand that the extractive industries, particularly mining, disturb the earth. And when we’re out there preaching that, you know, we’re guardians of the environment, and you suddenly discover that we’re not, that’s– it’s like someone hits you in the stomach real hard.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Less than a year after the audit, Larry Kurlander decided to retire. Two years later, Newmont’s CEO wrote Kurlander this letter, in which he belatedly praised Kurlander for “sensitizing the company to some of its shortcomings,” which prompted them to make changes at the Yanacocha Mine. The CEO, Wayne Murdy, wrote that since Kurlander’s audit, the company has spent more than $100 million on environmental improvements. And Newmont says that today, they comply with all national and international environmental standards.

At Yanacocha, they have set up a water-monitoring lab and constructed dams to control run-off and to protect the fish population. They’ve implemented new procedures for transporting mercury and are building a $40 million road so they can by-pass the local villages.

But despite the company’s efforts, many in Cajamarca are still suspicious.

MARIA CHAVEZ: [subtitles] The animals get sick. Now they don’t produce good quality milk. Our crops don’t grow like they did before.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] So have you complained to the mine?

MARIA CHAVEZ: The communities always present proposals for the mine to give us support, but I think it falls on deaf ears.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] Father Marco Arana is a Catholic priest and a leader of the opposition to the mine.

Father MARCO ARANA: [subtitles] Cajamarca had a lot of faith in Yanacocha when they came 11 years ago. Yanacocha in those 11 years has done everything possible to destroy that trust– corruption of the authorities, problems with the water and the campesinos’ land, confrontations, sometimes violent ones, with the population. Yanacocha needs to rebuild that trust.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Larry Kurlander believes that Newmont has made significant improvements but needs to do a lot more to win back the trust of the people.

LARRY KURLANDER: There is a social license that, in my opinion, is far more important than the government license because the social license is granted by the people of the community, and unlike the government license, it’s renewable every day. And without building a trust with the people who live there and work there and have lived there for centuries, you’re going to have trouble. And indeed, they have.

ROQUE BENAVIDES, President, Minas Buenaventura: I hate the term “social license.” I do not understand what “social license” means. We essentially apply social responsibility, caring for people. But a “social license”– I expect a license from the authorities, from the minister of mines. I expect a license from the regional government. But I don’t expect a license from the whole community.

BRANT HINZE, General Mgr., Yanacocha Mine: We do a tremendous amount of work directly with the communities.

LOWELL BERGMAN: Brant Hinze, the mine manager, says he recognizes the importance of working with and helping the community. Before we left, he took us on a tour of projects funded by the mine and to a lunch hosted by a community leader who supports the company.

Newmont provides 2,200 full-time jobs in the region, allowing many to buy a home and car for the first time. The hosts presented Hinze with a gift, a statue of Atahualpa, the Inca emperor whose gold was stolen by the Spanish.

BRANT HINZE: [subtitles] And my name’s here! [laughter]

LOWELL BERGMAN: [on camera] From today on, if you do everything right, do you think the community will support you?

BRANT HINZE: I would hope that we can continue to build and develop on the trust within the communities, so that as a mining company, we continue to have opportunities here to continue to expand and be a neighbor here for a very long time.

LOWELL BERGMAN: [voice-over] In their latest report to investors, Newmont revealed that its production of gold at Yanacocha is expected to dramatically decline, in part because its expansion plans are now in jeopardy. The company wanted to start digging at this mountain, called Cerro Quilish, which they believe contains more than a billion dollars worth of gold.

But for the campesinos, Quilish is a sacred mountain and a source of precious water.

MARCO ARANA: [subtitles] For Yanacocha, Quilish is a mountain of gold. And for the people, it is a mountain of water. And Yanacocha didn’t listen to the people.

PROTESTERS: [subtitles] Quilish is not for sale! We’ll defend Quilish!

LOWELL BERGMAN: Last fall, thousands of Peruvians filled the town square of Cajamarca. It was the largest protest ever against the Yanacocha mine. Blocking roads, the protesters succeeded in shutting down mine operations and forced the company to stop its expansion plans.

BRANT HINZE: We have no plans to go in and enter Cerro Quilish again. Now, will it ever be mined? I don’t know. I can’t answer that.

LARRY KURLANDER: Communities are more and more becoming involved in their own destinies. And when I say it’s a social license, I mean it. Without the community support, you’ll be out of business eventually. They will force you out of their community, and it doesn’t matter how much government support you have.

ANNOUNCER: Next, in Ukraine: An unsolved murder still haunts the country, and a widow returns, hoping the new government is brave enough to prosecute her husbands killers.

Ukraine: A Murder in Kyiv

Reported by Brian Knappenberger

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER, Reporter: [voice-over] It was just a year ago, in November 2004, when hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians poured into Kyiv’s Independence Square. For weeks, they stood in sub-zero temperatures protesting a fraudulent election and trying to force democratic change. It would be called the“orange revolution.”

At the center was Viktor Yushchenko, who became a folk hero in Ukraine after surviving a poisoning by his political opponents. His badly scarred and pock-marked face would become the defiant face of the revolution.

PROTESTERS: Yushchenko! Yushchenko!

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: In an early news conference, the new president pledged to end decades of corruption. He also vowed to solve the mysterious murder of a journalist that has haunted Ukraine for years.

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO: [subtitles] I want to emphasize that resolving the murder of Georgy Gongadze is a very important political, moral, and a human obligation for me personally.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Georgy Gongadze was a crusading journalist, whose death helped spark the orange revolution. But today, despite the new president’s pledge, Gongadze’s murder remains curiously unsolved. The story starts here, at this apartment building in Kyiv. Late on September 16, 2000, Georgy Gongadze walked outside, was pushed into a waiting taxi. and disappeared.

Georgy had become a major opposition figure in Ukraine. A year earlier, on national TV, he dared to confront then president Kuchma for failing to investigate an assassination attempt on a presidential candidate.

GEORGY GONGADZE: [subtitles] Do you not think that this is incompetence? If people cannot find the guilty criminals, shouldn’t they lose their jobs?

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Kuchma wasn’t used to taking tough questions from journalists.

LEONID KUCHMA, Ukrainian President: [subtitles] Excuse me, sir. I do not know your name.

GEORGY GONGADZE: [subtitles] Georgy Gongadze.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: But Georgy was fearless. He kept relentlessly after Kuchma and his cronies until the night he went missing.

In a shallow grave in a forest south of Kyiv, Georgy’s body was found months after his disappearance. It was badly decomposed, burned and beheaded. What happened to Georgy Gongadze that night has remained buried for years, but now political pressure is mounting to dig up the secrets of the old regime.

We came to Kyiv with Myroslava Gongadze, Georgy’s widow. She’s been in exile in the United States since her husband’s death. Well-known as a TV newswoman, Myroslava is enormously popular here.

REPORTER: [subtitles] What is the purpose of your visit?

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] The government has changed, Ukraine has changed, and I want to see how much it has changed. And my second goal is to meet with law enforcement to find out when my husband’s case will be brought to trial.

This is my home. This is where my heart is. I haven’t been here in four years. When Georgy was killed, we were all in danger. There is still danger here, but I hope things have changed.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Myroslava’s first stop is Ukraine’s interior ministry. She believes the killing of her husband may have been plotted by officers in this very building.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: Actually, the militia killed Georgy. And I’m here right now with these people, and they all belong to this system, and I feel really stressed right now.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: This used to be the office of Yuri Kravchenko, the man suspected of organizing Georgy’s murder. Kravchenko’s replacement, the new interior minister of Ukraine, is an old friend of Georgy and Myroslava’s, Yuri Lutzenko.

YURI LUTZENKO, Interior Minister: [subtitles] Can you believe these offices?

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] I never imagined you in a place like this!

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] Me neither!

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Lutzenko is a surprising choice for the job. As a former anti-government protester in the“Ukraine Without Kuchma” movement, he was beaten by the very same militia he now leads. Once in office, Lutzenko opened his own investigation into the Gongadze case. He told Myroslava that the plot was much larger than anyone had suspected.

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] There were 40 officers involved with his abduction.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] Oh, my God!

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] It’s impossible to hide such a huge operation. Two or three people maybe, but not forty people. That’s why, for all these years, people have lived in fear.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] It’s unbelievable!

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Lutzenko said Georgy was likely killed within hours of his disappearance. He was pushed into a cab, where three officers were waiting.

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] Two people in the car beat him with fists until he was nearly dead.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] Oh, my God.

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] I’m sorry to be telling you this–

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] No, keep telling me.

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] They got a shovel and drove him out to the forest. They poured gasoline on him and burned and buried him. The officer in charge finished killing Georgy by strangling him with his belt. He was already unconscious. Georgy was already half-dead from the beating in the car.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] They killed him with their fists?

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] In the car, yes.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] With fists?

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] These are professional killers.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Lutzenko’s work led to some progress in the case. Three low-level militiamen were arrested. But he told Myroslava that he hasn’t been successful getting to the people who ordered the crime.

Georgy’s body was found 80 miles outside of the city. That’s where Lutzenko is taking us now.

YURI LUTZENKO: [subtitles] Gongadze’s murder is not the only crime against journalists and politicians in Ukraine. There are a number of known victims, and thousands unknown. But the murder of Gongadze was the last straw. It happened at the moment when people could not take it anymore.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Here is where farmers found Georgy Gongadze’s body.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: I loved him so much. I need to believe his death meant something. I need to believe that this new government is different and that things have changed. If they don’t put Kuchma on trial for this, then maybe the revolution wasn’t real.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Former president Leonid Kuchma’s role in Gongadze’s murder has been rumored for years, but just a month before Myroslava’s visit, Kuchma once again disavowed involvement.

LEONID KUCHMA: [subtitles] What would the motive for the president to go after Georgy Gongadze? For one thing, I didn’t know him. I only met him once, and I didn’t even know he was against me, the president.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Kuchma’s denial comes despite startling evidence brought forward by one of his former bodyguards, secret audiotapes recorded in president Kuchma’s office. Here, Kuchma is heard telling his interior minister, Yuri Kravchenko, to“do something” about Myroslava’s husband.


LEONID KUCHMA: [subtitles] Before I forget, there is a guy named Gongadze.

YURI KRAVCHENKO: [subtitles] I’ve heard this last name.

LEONID KUCHMA: [subtitles] Gongadze, yes, he is already known to us.

YURI KRAVCHENKO: [subtitles] What?

LEONID KUCHMA: [subtitles] He is already known to us.

YURI KRAVCHENKO: [subtitles] Well–

LEONID KUCHMA: [subtitles] The Chechens should kidnap him and take him to Chechnya. Drive him out. Undress him. Leave him without his pants. Let him sit there.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Kuchma says the tapes are a fabrication, but Myroslava believes they’re real. She has worked to authenticate them since she first heard them four years earlier.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: After I hear these tapes, I realized that I don’t have anybody to help me because there’s your president, the president of your country, ordering killing of the journalist, of my husband. In that time, I realized that I have to do something different and I have to find the way to investigate this case.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Myroslava wants to meet the one man who she thinks can finally force answers to her husband’s killing, the hero of the Orange Revolution, Viktor Yushchenko.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: I’m planning to ask him about investigation, about his political promises, and about political future of people who was involved in Gongadze murder because they still in power. And I would like to know how far they are ready to go and are they ready to get Kuchma.

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO: [subtitles] You look very nervous.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] In this office, Kuchma gave the order to kill my husband.

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO: [subtitles] No, I think it was on the second floor.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] Really? On the second floor?

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO: [subtitles] It was an older office.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] So it is not this office?

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO: [subtitles] No, Kuchma moved to this office after the scandal. Maybe you can sit here.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Yushchenko begins by repeating his public pledges on the case.

VIKTOR YUSHCHENKO: [subtitles] For four years, we’ve had a huge question hanging over this country. Who killed Gongadze? This is a question of my honor, and I will resolve it, regardless how much it will cost me politically or personally.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: But he spent most of his time trying to get Myroslava to come back to Ukraine and support his reform efforts.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: He was saying, “Come back. Come back home. Come back home. Come back home.” I said, “After this, only after finishing this case. Only after, we will discuss these issues.”

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: A month earlier, Yushchenko had tried to close off the investigation after the first minor arrests for the crime, so Myroslava says she isn’t sure if Yushchenko has the will to pursue the case to the highest levels.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: A lot of politics around this case. A lot of politics. Unbelievable. But I will push as much as I can.

SERGIY TARAN, Independent Scholar: Yushchenko promised during the Orange Revolution that he will make sure that the Gongadze case will be solved, but now he cannot solve it.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Sergiy Taran is an authority on the Gongadze case. He believes that in the heat of the Orange Revolution, to avoid a violent crackdown by Kuchma, a deal was made.

SERGIY TARAN: I believe that the international community gave guarantees to Kuchma that if Kuchma does not use force against people during the Orange Revolution, he will not be prosecuted, regardless whatever he done before. And now we see that Gongadze became victim of politics twice– before the Orange Revolution, and now.

[ Read his reports on the case]

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Perhaps the greatest failure in the government’s pursuit of the Gongadze case so far involves the chief suspect, former interior minister Yuri Kravchenko, the man heard being ordered by Kuchma to “do something” about Gongadze. A day before he was called in to testify, he was found dead in his home. The authorities called it suicide, but Kravchenko had been shot in the head-twice.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: It looks like he was killed, and this killing has to be investigated because he was killed right before he was asked to go to prosecutor’s office to testify. It means that someone wouldn’t like him to talk.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Former president Kuchma came out of seclusion for Kravchenko’s funeral. Afterward, he faced heavy questioning.

REPORTER: [subtitles] Do you believe that Kravchenko committed suicide?

LEONID KUCHMA: [subtitles] I cannot answer this question.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Kuchma’s former chief prosecutor is the man in charge of investigating the suicide. He’s the same man investigating the murder of Georgy Gongadze. His name is Savanislav Piskun. Myroslava asks him about Kravchenko’s strange suicide.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] Did Kravchenko commit suicide?

SAVANISLAV PISKUN: [subtitles] Absolutely. For sure. Don’t you understand that he was under surveillance?

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] I understand, but how could he shoot himself twice?

SAVANISLAV PISKUN: [subtitles] There are thousands of cases like this one known. It’s not painful when the bullet gets in the soft tissues.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Piskun is not entirely convincing about Kravchenko’s death.

SAVANISLAV PISKUN: [subtitles] In the university, there is a display showing people who committed suicide. I saw the skull of the person who hammered a nail into his head and survived. Then he hammered another nail.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Myroslava’s concerned that with Kravchenko’s death, there is only one major piece of evidence left to implicate Kuchma.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE (on-camera): [subtitles] Let’s authenticate the tapes and decide, can we use the tapes as evidence or not. If we can’t use them, we have to continue with that in mind.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: She says Piskun’s been stalling on the tapes, but he says he’s doing all he can.

SAVANISLAV PISKUN: [subtitles] What if they find the device he used, was unable to record anything? What then? That’s it? Gongadze case is closed, and everyone is laughing.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: [subtitles] I understand this. I understand this.

SAVANISLAV PISKUN: [subtitles] We can’t lose such a serious evidence. I am trying not to lose the tapes as evidence. And when someone says they don’t trust me, I laugh, because if I wanted to lose it, I would do it differently. Instead, I try to nurture it as a flower.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: The audiotapes have become a political time bomb in Ukraine. Few in government seem interested in pursuing what’s on them.

PETER BYRNE, Reporter, Kyiv Post: One of the reasons why there’s a reluctance to crack “Tapegate,” as we say, is because on those 700 hours of recordings, there are conversations between former president Kuchma and officials who today hold high government positions, including Yushchenko.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Peter Byrne of The Kyiv Post has studied the tapes released so far. He says they may hold the key not only to the Gongadze case, but to many other unsolved crimes and secrets of the Ukrainian government.

PETER BYRNE: It’s conversations with these people about significant things that involve other people, many of whom, I would guess, are in power today, or whom should be prosecuted for crimes that are suggested in the recordings, if it can be proved that they actually occurred.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: Today, Peter Byrne and other reporters in Ukraine say they are free to pursue the sorts of corruption stories that once got Georgy Gongadze killed.

This is the office of Ukrainska Pravda, the Internet newspaper that Georgy helped found in the months before his death. Here a new generation of reporters is taking up where Georgy left off. Journalists in Ukraine no longer have to fear the government they report on, says editor Olena Prytula.

[ More on “Ukrainska Pravda”]

OLENA PRYTULA, Editor, Ukrainska Pravda: We are not in danger anymore. I think everybody can criticize everybody from the highest levels. And nobody would say that I can be next, I can be like Georgy Gongadze. Everybody knows that Ukrainska Pravda, it’s a history of Georgy Gongadze, actually. I think that our newspaper is like monument to him.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: After weeks of meeting with top officials, Myroslava is leaving the country. She thinks her husband’s death won’t be solved any time soon, despite the political promises.

MYROSLAVA GONGADZE: For last four years, Gongadze case has become a symbol of struggle for democracy. The politicians kind of need me. They think that I’m kind of symbol of change in this country, that if I will come back or I will bring my family back, the people will believe in this new government. Is it possible to come back? I’m struggling right now because I see how many change has to be done.

BRIAN KNAPPENBERGER: For now, Myroslava has not to bring her family back to Ukraine. A few months after she returned to the United States, it was the fifth anniversary of Georgy Gongadze’s death. People were now calling for the firing of general prosecutor Piskun and the full resolution of the case against Georgy’s killers.

Just last week, those calls seem to have been heard. President Yushchenko fired prosecutor Piskun, coming one step closer to fulfilling the promise of the Orange Revolution.

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