Criminal charges that former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma ordered the murder of opposition journalist Georgiy Gongadze in 2000 may be dropped, the Constitutional Court said on Friday.

In July the Ukrainian security service (SBU) asked the Constitutional Court to withdraw testimony from Mykola Melnychenko, a former security officer who claims to have secretly recorded conversations allegedly featuring Kuchma giving the order "to take care of" the journalist, since the evidence was gathered illegally.

“Only factual information that was received in compliance with Criminal Procedures law can be considered legitimate and used as evidence in a criminal case,” the Court said in a statement, RIA Novosti reported.

In March Ukraine's state prosecutor opened a criminal case against Kuchma for his suspected role in the murder of Gongadze, whose headless body was found in a forest outside Kiev in September 2000.

Kuchma, who ruled Ukraine from 1994 to 2005, categorically denies involvement in the 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. Oleksa Pukach.
Pukach evaded arrest and fled to Israel. He was arrested in summer 2009 in Kiev and is awaiting trial.

In September the state prosecutor accused Yuri Kravchenko, who was interior minister in 2000, of ordering the murder. According to official information, on March 4, 2005 Kravchenko committed suicide, having shot himself in the head.

Kuchma has been ordered not to leave Ukraine.

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