KIEV, January 29 - RAPSI. The Pechersky District Court in Kiev has sentenced the former Ukrainian Interior Ministry general Alexei Pukach to life imprisonment for strangling and decapitating opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze.

Pukach, who previously headed the Interior Ministry's Surveillance Department, listened to the judge in silence, clasping a small prayerbook in his hands. "The gathered evidence proves Pukach's guilt," the sentence read. "He is guilty of abuse of power and murder."

Pukach said in court he had hoped to scare Gongadze by choking him, but the belt around his neck accidentally tightened and he died.

The journalist's decapitated body was found in November 2000 in a forest near Kiev. Soon after, a tape surfaced that was allegedly recorded by former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's bodyguard Mykola Melnichenko. On the tape, a voice that sounded like Kuchma's ordered someone to "deal with" Gongadze.

The security services arrested Pukach in 2009 after several years of investigation.

During his interrogation, Pukach admitted to strangling the journalist after receiving orders from former Interior Minister Yuri Kravchenko. Pukach also said in court that he believes the assassination was effectively ordered by Kuchma and former Parliamentary Speaker Vladimir Litvin. Kuchma and Litvin have both denied any involvement in journalist's murder.