Ex-officer says he plotted editor’s murder; some are skeptical

New York, July 27, 2006—A former Interior Ministry officer facing trial on a series of charges including murder and kidnapping said in court on Tuesday that he took part in another, unrelated killing—the March 2005 murder of Elmar Huseynov, founder and editor of the Baku-based opposition weekly news magazine Monitor, according to local and international press reports. Haji Mammadov, a former lieutenant colonel, had not been charged in the Huseynov case, and his statement was considered a surprise.

Mammadov, said by prosecutors to be the leader of a crime gang, alleged that he planned the Huseynov murder on the orders of Farkhad Aliyev, a former minister of economics now in prison awaiting trial on charges of organizing a 2005 coup against President Ilham Aliyev, press reports said. (The Aliyevs are not related.) Mammadov made his allegations during a court hearing after refusing advice from his lawyer.

Mammadov’s name arose once before in the Huseynov investigation, for which Azerbaijan had sought international assistance. Turkish investigators reported Mammadov’s supposed involvement in April 2005, but Azerbaijani prosecutors dismissed the lead at the time, according to international press reports.

In a statement on Wednesday, Farkhad Aliyev denied involvement in Huseynov’s killing. Aliyev’s lawyer, Elton Guliyev, told reporters that agents from the Ministry of National Security (MNB) had questioned his client in the absence of counsel on July 16 and threatened to charge him in the Huseynov murder if he did not admit to the coup plot. “But this accusation was so absurd,” Aliyev said in his statement, “that I did not take it seriously.”

Mammadov’s statement was greeted with considerable skepticism elsewhere.

Sabir Huseynov, the editor’s father, said he doubted that the murder was organized by Mammadov and Farkhad Aliyev. “It’s too convenient. Both of them are already in prison. I don’t think it’s fair to put all the blame on Farkhad Aliyev. The authorities must find the real killers,” Huseynov told the news Web site Day.

Mekhman Aliyev, the head of the Turan news agency who is monitoring Huseynov’s case, told CPJ that he, too, was skeptical because Mammadov’s statement seemed to emerge suddenly and without provocation.

Huseynov, 38, was gunned down around 9 p.m. on March 2, 2005, while walking up the stairs of his apartment building. Seven bullets pierced his body, and he died at the scene. The attack appeared to be well-planned. A light in the entrance was damaged and several telephones in the area were disconnected at the time of the shooting. Prior to his murder, Huseynov had complained of multiple threats and was concerned about his safety.

The investigation has been shrouded in confusion. Investigators have identified Georgian citizens as suspects in the killing, but have provided no details on the alleged involvement of the men. Authorities in Georgia have refused extradition requests, citing a lack of evidence.

“While we welcome new information about the investigation, a confession without evidence does not represent substantive progress,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on Baku investigators to pursue all leads aggressively and impartially.”