Russia still far from solving Politkovskaya murder

Former police official Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov arrives in court Friday. He was jailed for 11 years for his role in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. (Reuters/Anton Petrov)

New York, December 17, 2012--The Committee to Protect Journalists today called for a retrial of a key defendant in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. The defendant, a former senior police official, was sentenced Friday in a deal that Politkovskaya's family and colleagues fear will not ultimately identify the crime's true masterminds.

Moscow City Court wrapped up the two-day, closed trial of former police Lt. Col. Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, who was originally charged with organizing the 2006 killing of the prominent Novaya Gazeta correspondent but, under a deal he cut with investigators, was tried only for being an accomplice. According to the deal, Pavlyuchenkov was obligated to fully confess his role in the murder and name its mastermind, Novaya Gazeta said. The journalist's family and colleagues say Pavlyuchenkov did not fulfill those conditions, but their appeals to invalidate the deal were denied.

Also under the deal with investigators, journalists were allowed in court only for the opening and closing statements; all substantive deliberations and testimony were sealed to the public.

Judge Aleksandr Zamashnyuk sentenced Pavlyuchenkov to 11 years in a maximum-security prison and ordered him to pay moral damages of 3,000,000 rubles (US$ 96,786) to Politkovskaya's adult children, Ilya and Vera. Politkovskaya's family said Friday that they would appeal the ruling, which they consider lenient, and that they would continue to ask for an invalidation of Pavlyuchenkov's deal with the investigation.

Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin, in a statement after the verdict, announced for the first time that Pavlyuchenkov had named exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky and Chechen envoy Akhmed Zakayev as the masterminds who ordered Politkovskaya's murder. He said that version of events is now considered the leading one for the investigation.

However, the Politkovskaya family's legal representatives--who have studied investigative materials into Pavlyuchenkov's role in the crime--said those materials contain no substantive evidence of Berezovsky's or Zakayev's involvement in the slaying. Berezovsky's alleged role as mastermind was first suggested shortly after the murder by President Vladimir Putin.

"We call on Russian investigators to get to the truth about our colleague Anna Politkovskaya's murder rather than settle on a politically expedient resolution," CPJ Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said. "Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov is a key figure who can help lead to the true masterminds, but his quick, closed-door trial has brought more concerns than answers."

Five other suspects, including three Chechen brothers--two of whom were acquitted by a jury back in 2009--are to be tried in separate proceedings in the journalist's murder.  The three Makhmudovs, Rustam, Ibragim, and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, are charged as Politkovskaya's immediate killers. Suspects also include Chechen underground leader Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, who the official investigation now says was the main organizer of the killing and served as liaison between the masterminds and Pavlyuchenkov; and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, another former police officer who served at the Moscow Directorate for Combating Organized Crime at the time of the murder. Along with Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, Khadzhikurbanov was tried and acquitted of involvement in the crime back in 2009. He is considered an accomplice in the crime now. A court date has not yet been scheduled for the five suspects.

After Friday's verdict, Novaya Gazeta Deputy Editor Sergey Sokolov told CPJ that Pavlyuchenkov "has given no testimony about the true masterminds of the crime, even though we have every ground to believe that he knows who these people are." Sokolov also said Pavlyuchenkov had failed to reveal anything about the financing of the crime. "As a result, Pavlyuchenkov did everything to cut any possibility of netting the true key culprits in Anna Politkovskaya's murder," he said.

Pavlyuchenkov's defense lawyer had asked for a conditional sentence for his client, saying that the former police colonel is not in good health and citing his former service to the state.

December 17, 2012 5:36 PM ET |

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