New York, May 28, 2003—The Military Collegium of the Supreme Court yesterday overturned the June 2002 acquittal of six men accused of organizing the 1994 murder of Dmitry Kholodov, a popular journalist for the Moscow newspaper Moskovsky Komsomolets.
The Supreme Court ruled that the Moscow Circuit Military Court had “failed to take all available evidence into account” during the 18-month trial, which began in November 2000, according to the Interfax news agency.
The ruling specifically faulted the lower court’s decision to throw out the testimony of one defendant, a military officer, who stated that then defense minister Pavel Grachev had asked him to “deal with Kholodov” because of the journalist’s coverage of corruption in the military.
Just before his death, Kholodov was planning to present the Parliament with evidence that military officers were involved in illegal arms trading in former East Germany, Agence France-Presse reported.
Yesterday’s ruling sent the case back to the Moscow Circuit Military Court for retrial with different judges and instructed the six defendants not to leave Moscow, according to Interfax. The lower court has not yet set a date for the retrial.
“We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn the acquittal, because justice in the Kholodov case is almost a decade overdue,” said CPJ executive director Ann Cooper. “We call on the Moscow Circuit Military Court to uphold its judicial standards in the second trial by taking all of the prosecution’s evidence into account.”
On October 17, 1994, Dmitry Kholodov, a 27-year-old investigative reporter for Moskovsky Komsomolets, was killed in his newspaper’s office when he opened a booby-trapped briefcase he had collected from a source at Moscow’s Kazansky railroad station. Kholodov, who wrote extensively about corruption in the Russian military, had been told that the attaché case contained secret documents exposing corruption at the military’s highest levels. The official murder investigation, which progressed at a sluggish pace, drew extensive criticism from Kholodov’s colleagues and the Russian public.
Five of the defendants were arrested in 1998, four years after the murder, and another was arrested in 1999. The trial in the Moscow Circuit Military Court began in November 2000. The court ruled that the prosecution failed to prove the suspects’ guilt and acquitted the defendants, who were immediately released from custody. The defendants included four former military officers—Pavel Popovskikh, Vladimir Morozov, Aleksandr Soroka, and Konstantin Mirzayants—as well as Aleksandr Kapuntsov, deputy head of a security firm, and businessman Konstantin Barkovsky. The prosecution and the journalist’s parents appealed the decision to the Military Collegium of the Russian Supreme Court in December 2002, Interfax reported.