Prosecutor to appeal acquittal in Klebnikov case

New York, May 8, 2006—A Russian prosecutor has said he will appeal the acquittal by a Moscow jury of two Chechens charged with the July 2004 murder of Forbes Russia editor-in-chief Paul Klebnikov.

Prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin said on Saturday he would challenge the verdict in the Supreme Court, as allowed under Russian law, because of “flagrant procedural violations” during the trial, local and international media reported. He did not detail the violations.

On Friday, the jury acquitted Musa Vakhayev, 32, and Kazbek Dukuzov, 42, of Klebnikov’s murder after a four-month, closed-door trial criticized by the Committee to Protect Journalists for its lack of transparency. Both men were released.

A Moscow City Court official said the court would publish only the judgment, and that the trial proceedings would remain classified, ITAR-TASS news agency reported.

Klebnikov’s brother Michael Klebnikov welcomed the prosecutor’s decision. “Our lawyers tell us they believe there are procedural violations that would give grounds for an appeal,” he told CPJ today.

The Klebnikov family said earlier it respected the verdict but it voiced frustration with the lack of progress in the case. The family called on Russian authorities to work on the investigation “with renewed vigor.” It urged prosecutors to accept assistance from the U.S. government and other countries with the investigation, something Russian authorities have rejected without explanation for nearly two years.

In June, prosecutors accused Chechen separatist leader Khozh Akhmed Nukhayev of ordering Klebnikov’s slaying but have yet to present any evidence linking Nukhayev to the murder. Prosecutors say the killing was in retaliation for a book published by Klebnikov in 2003 profiling Nukhayev.

Some journalists have questioned the prosecutor’s case. Aleksandr Gordeyev, deputy editor of the Russian edition of Newsweek, spoke briefly to Klebnikov after he was shot, according to local and international press reports. Gordeyev said the mortally wounded editor told him twice that the gunman appeared to be an ethnic Russian. Klebnikov, 41, was gunned down outside his Moscow office.

From the beginning of the investigation, Russian authorities described Klebnikov’s case as a contract murder and said they believed he was killed because of his work. Klebnikov had written a number of books and articles that angered his subjects. Among other topics, he wrote about the shadowy world of Russia’s business tycoons.

In addition to holding a trial closed to the public and the press, the Moscow City Court imposed a gag order in Klebnikov’s trial on February 26 at the request of the Prosecutor General’s Office, banning participants from talking about the proceedings or identifying witnesses to the press.

Twelve journalists have been killed in Russia in work-related and contract-style killings since Putin took office six years ago.

Despite public statements made by the Prosecutor General’s Office in Moscow that authorities have pursued and apprehended perpetrators in some of the cases, CPJ research has found that no one has been brought to justice in 11 of the 12 cases.

A list of unsolved cases can be viewed at: