In Russia, four formally charged in Politkovskaya murder as new suspect emerges

New York, August 29, 2007—Four of the 10 suspects detained in the 2006 murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya have been formally charged, a defense lawyer told the independent radio station Ekho Moskvy. A warrant has been issued for the detention of an 11th suspect in the case, a spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court told the Interfax news agency today.

The names of the 11 suspects appeared in the Russian press on Tuesday, although the prosecutor general’s office has refused to comment since it first announced a break in the case on Monday. The Committee to Protect Journalists today urged Russian prosecutors to disclose more information about its investigation.

“The murder of Anna Politkovskaya shook the Russian and international community,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The public expects a thorough and timely accounting of the investigation.”

Court spokeswoman Anna Usacheva told Interfax that a warrant was issued for Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer with the Moscow Directorate for Combating Organized Crime. The daily Kommersant said Khadzhikurbanov is suspected of helping plan the murder. Usacheva did not provide further details.

Defense lawyer Murad Musayev said four suspects have been formally charged with complicity in the October 7, 2006, slaying. In comments on the Ekho Moskvy talk show “Razvorot,” the lawyer said his client, Dzhabrail Makhmudov, a paralegal, has an alibi for events related to the murder. Musayev accused investigators of beating the 25-year-old Makhmudov to coerce a confession. He said his client did not confess. The government did not immediately respond to the accusation.

Musayev said Makhmudov’s two brothers, Tamerlan and Ibragim Makhmudov, were also among those formally charged. He described all of the Makhmudov brothers as Chechen citizens residing in Moscow. The lawyer did not identify the fourth person formally charged. The brothers, he said, deny wrongdoing.

Politkovskaya, an internationally known reporter for the Moscow newspaper Novaya Gazeta, was killed by a lone gunman in the elevator of her apartment building on October 7, 2006.

Several Russian newspapers and Web sites have published the names of those said to be suspects. Among them was Pavel Ryaguzov, a Federal Security Service (FSB) colonel, who is accused of conducting surveillance of Politkovskaya, Kommersant reported.

In a news briefing on Monday, Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika blamed Politkovskaya’s assassination on unidentified masterminds abroad who want to destabilize Russia. His comments were interpreted by some to point at exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who has denied involvement.

Chaika said the investigation “leads us to the conclusion that those interested in the removal of Politkovskaya can only be individuals outside the territory of the Russian Federation.” He said the journalist’s murder benefits people whose aim is “destabilizing the situation in the country; changing the constitutional order; creating a crisis in Russia; restoring the former system, when everything was decided by money and oligarchs; discrediting the leaders of the Russian state; and aspiring to provoke an external pressure on the government of our country.”

Politkovskaya earned worldwide fame for her coverage of the conflict in Chechnya and the Caucasus.

According to a transcript of the press conference posted on the prosecutor general’s office Web site, Chaika said investigative evidence shows that a member of the criminal group implicated in the Politkovskaya murder was also involved in the 2004 murder of Paul Klebnikov, the American editor of Forbes Russia.

Chaika did not identify the purported masterminds or elaborate on evidence of their involvement.

“Prosecutor Chaika has made assertions about alleged overseas masterminds in Anna Politkovskaya’s murder—along with a connection to Paul Klebnikov’s murder—but he has not yet backed up these accusations,” said Simon. “We call on the authorities to be transparent and provide evidence for such claims.”