Charges Filed in Politkovskaya Murder, Killer Still at Large

Russian authorities have brought charges against several men in connection with the October 2006 murder of revered journalist Anna Politkovskaya, while her killer is said to be hiding in Western Europe and an investigation into the organization of the suspected contract killing is ongoing.

The Washington Post reported June 19, 2008 that prosecutors with a committee investigating the murder charged Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police officer, and two brothers from Chechnya, Dzhabrail Makhmudov and Ibragim Makhmudov, with involvement in the crime, but gave no details as to their alleged roles. The three men have been in custody since they were among 10 people arrested in August 2007 as part of the investigation. (See “Russia: Politkovskaya Investigation Continues; Reporter Detained for Alleged Extortion” in the Fall 2007 issue of the Silha Bulletin.)

The Washington Post reported that charges for extortion and abuse of office brought against Pavel Ryaguzov, an officer in the domestic security agency FSB who officials had previously said provided Politkovskaya’s address to the killers, were related to a “separate crime.”

Politkovskaya was shot and killed in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7, 2006. The Washington Post reported that Politkovskaya was shot in the head and chest and that a pistol and spent bullet casings were found on the floor at her feet. The circumstances of her death led many to speculate that the killing was in retaliation for her outspoken criticism of government officials and policies targeting Chechnya, the topic for much of the reporting for which she was renowned. The Washington Post characterized the shooting as an “apparent contract killing,” the killer having left the murder weapon at the feet of the victim as an assassin’s mark. (See “Famed Russian Reporter Murdered in Contract Killing” in the Fall 2006 issue of the Silha Bulletin.)

On July 1, 2008, The Associated Press (AP) reported that Alexander Bastrykin, head of the prosecutors’ investigative committee, announced at a July 1 press conference that Politkovskaya’s accused killer, Rustam Makhmudov, the eldest of the Makhmudov brothers, had fled to a Western European country. Bastrykin did not name the country or say how he knew the information be true, the AP story said.

According to The Washington Post, Rustam Makhmudov was charged in absentia in May, and had been identified as the killer in news reports as early as March.

According to a June 18 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, Politkovskaya’s former employer, said although the charges conclude a preliminary investigation into the journalist’s killers, separate probes into Rustam Makhmudov and the masterminds of the crime are ongoing.

CPJ reported that Novaya Gazeta Editor-in-Chief Dmitry Muratov said in a radio interview that the case is far from closed. “We think the investigation is on the right track. However, a crime cannot be considered solved with the immediate killer still at large, on the run, and … outside the country,” Muratov said. “Neither can it be considered solved when the mastermind has not been identified.”

Novaya Gazeta has also been critical of the government investigation into the killing. CPJ reported Sokolov said that deliberate leaks of confidential information in the press and other forms of sabotage of the investigation have seriously jeopardized the pursuit of justice, allowing Rustam Makhmudov to avoid custody, for example.

CPJ reported June 18 that Russia is the third deadliest country in the world for journalists. Since 2000, 14 journalists have been murdered, and in only one case have the killers been convicted.

– Patrick File
Silha Fellow and Bulletin Editor



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