Monday, August 27, 2007

10 Arrested in Politkovskaya Murder Case

Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has announced the arrest and pending charges of 10 people in connection with the October 2006 murder of reporter/activist Anna Politkovskaya. Politkovskaya was 48 when she was shot dead in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment on Vladimir Putin's birthday last year. Closed circuit security cameras at her building revealed a lone assassin shooting her as she left for work.
"We have made serious progress in the Politkovskaya murder investigation," Russian television showed Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika telling President Vladimir Putin at a meeting.

"Ten people have been arrested in connection with this case and literally, in the very near future, they will be charged with carrying out this grave crime."

Prosecutors said her killing was probably linked to her reporting. She had been active in exposing abuses by security forces in Russia's turbulent Chechnya and neighboring regions.

Putin said at the time the murder was a "disgusting crime." [AR note: albeit belatedly] But Politkovskaya's supporters said she had paid the price for criticizing the Russian authorities. Foreign governments appealed for a thorough investigation.

Anna Usachyova, a spokeswoman for Moscow City Court, said a judge had approved the detention of two people suspected of involvement in the killing. An earlier court hearing ordered the other eight to be held in detention pending charges.
Politkovskaya's former employer, Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was cautiously optimistic regarding the arrests. The newspaper said it believed the 10 arrested people included people from an "ethnic" organized group, and law enforcement officers (both former and active).

It will be most interesting to see who these people are as the case develops.

Update: Some more tidbits on the murder case and the police officers involved:
Investigators probing the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya suspect the involvement of former police officers who served in Chechnya, the Kommersant newspaper said on Wednesday.

Investigators from the interior ministry and prosecutor's office left Moscow "almost en masse" last week for the west Siberian town of Nizhnevartovsk with the aim of questioning former police officers who had served in Chechnya, the paper said.

They suspect that the officers may have taken revenge on the hard-hitting journalist from the Novaya Gazeta newspaper after she named them as being involved in at least one killing of a civilian in Chechnya, Kommersant said.

"It appears a dominant explanation has appeared. Investigators think that former officers from the Nizhnevartovsk police were involved," the paper said.

Investigators particularly want to find a former police major and a former police lieutenant colonel who are already wanted in connection with crimes in Chechnya, the paper said.
This case will certainly do nothing to improve the less than stellar reputation of police officers in Russia.

Update 2: Another Reuters report has Prosecutor Yuri Chaika cutely implying that Boris Berezovsky ordered or paid for Politkovskaya to be murdered.
Russian prosecutors said on Monday they had detained 10 suspects in the murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, but that the killing was masterminded from abroad by anti-Kremlin forces trying to discredit Russia.

The contract-style shooting last year of Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, led to a storm of international condemnation, with critics saying the Kremlin was failing to protect freedom of speech.

Prosecutors had said her killing was probably linked to her reporting. She had been active in exposing abuses by security forces in Russia's turbulent Chechnya and neighboring regions.

Prosecutor-General Yuri Chaika told reporters an investigation showed Politkovskaya had been killed by an organized crime group led by an ethnic Chechen and including serving and former law enforcement officers.

He said the same group may have been involved in two other high-profile murders: the 2004 killing of U.S. reporter Paul Klebnikov and the shooting last year of central bank deputy chief Andrei Kozlov.

But the chief prosecutor said the trail from the Politkovskaya killing, and other crimes, led to Kremlin opponents living in exile abroad.

Asked if he had in mind Boris Berezovsky, a multi-millionaire critic of the Kremlin who lives in London, he smiled and refused to answer the question.

"The person who ordered the (Politkovskaya) killing is abroad," Chaika told reporters at a news briefing.

"Our investigation has led us to conclude that only people living abroad could be interested in killing Politkovskaya.

"Forces interested in destabilizing the country, changing its constitutional order, in stoking crisis, in a return to the old system where money and oligarchs ruled, in discrediting national leadership, provoking external pressure on the country, could be interested in this crime.

"Our investigations showed that this was not the first such attempt -- a number of previous murders were similar provocations."
The accusation, true or not, certainly ties everything up into a neat package for the Kremlin. Operating under the assumption that it is true, it would make the killing of Litvinenko look more like a tit-for-tat exchange of murders.

Of course, the Kremlin spokespeople had been making sounds about the Politkovskaya murder being done to undermine or discredit Putin's government from the beginning. It does seem rather convenient for that version of events to be the final outcome.

I predict these accused will get pushed through the Russian court system rather quickly. It seems in these sorts of cases the judges simply agree with the prosecutors evidence and ship the accused off to jail.

Update 3: It is being reported by ITAR-TASS that one of the criminals was also an FSB agent.
In the group of those detained in connection with the murder of investigative journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, there is the man who gunned down the victim.

The officer of the federal security service FSB detained in connection with the Politkovskaya case had long been under the surveillance of the FSB’s internal security division, its chief, Lieutenant-General Alexander Kupryazhkin, said on Monday.

Slain investigative reporter Politkovskaya had known and met with the man who is suspected of ordering her murder, Yuri Chaika said.
International Herald Tribune quotes an Associated Press article that says it was a Chechen crime boss who ordered Politkovskaya killed.

Update 4: Another BBC article describes the former FSB officer as Lt. Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov. The article also quotes Novaya Gazeta chief editor Dmitry Muratov, as saying the evidence from the investigations are "very convincing and professional".

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