Two charged in Klebnikov murder acquitted

Editor’s note: The final paragraph has been amended to make clear that 12 murders remain unsolved.

New York, May 5, 2006— A Moscow jury acquitted two Chechens today of the murder of Forbes Russia editor-in-chief Paul Klebnikov after a trial criticized by the Committee to Protect Journalists for its lack of transparency.

Russian and international media reported that eight of the 12-member jury at the Moscow City Court voted to acquit Musa Vakhayev, 32, and Kazbek Dukuzov, 42, in the July 9, 2004 killing.

Prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin said “serious violations” of criminal procedure led to the acquittal, and he added that he might appeal the ruling, as Russian law allows. The four-month trial was held behind closed doors at the prosecution’s request.

The Klebnikov family issued a statement saying it respected the verdict, Reuters reported.

“The secretive trial and the prosecution’s rejection of U.S. government assistance in the investigation raises serious questions about how authorities handled this case,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “President Vladimir Putin has a record of tolerating impunity for the murder of journalists. He must ensure that prosecutors aggressively and transparently pursue those responsible for Klebnikov’s murder, as well as those responsible for the other unsolved cases of murdered journalists.”

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. Russian authorities consistently rejected offers from the U.S. government to assist in the investigation.

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 all 12 murders remain unsolved.

A list of unsolved cases can be viewed at: