Russia arrests 10 for journalist’s murder

Russia’s chief prosecutor, Yuri Chaika, announced on Monday that 10 people had been arrested in connection with the murder of Anna Politkovskaya, which he blamed on a Chechen Mafia boss and rogue elements in Russia’s security services.

But he hinted that the real mastermind behind the plot to kill the campaigning journalist was a Russian citizen living abroad who had arranged the murder to discredit the Kremlin and Vladimir Putin, the Russian President. Asked whether he meant the exiled oligarch Boris Berezovsky, Chaika refused to answer but smiled.

”The person who ordered the [Politkovskaya] killing is abroad,” he said, adding that the journalist’s murder was a ”provocation” plotted by ”forces interested in destabilising the country, changing its constitutional order, and stoking a crisis”.

These mysterious forces, he said, also wanted ”a return to the old system where money and oligarchs ruled” and were interested in ”discrediting the national leadership”.

But human rights group were sceptical of the idea that Berezovsky, who is based in London, had ordered the assassination. They were not convinced by the Kremlin’s belated official explanation for the killing of Politkovskaya (48), a fierce critic of Putin who won international acclaim for exposing the brutality of Russian forces in Chechnya.

‘Close friend’

On Monday night, Berezovsky denied any involvement in the murder but said he was not surprised that the Kremlin should hint that he was behind the killing. ”Politkovskaya was not my close friend,” he told the Guardian newspaper, ”but she was my friend, and it was those who were angered by what she published who eliminated her.”

The journalist was shot dead last October in the lift of her Moscow apartment block. A closed-circuit television camera captured a young man in a white baseball cap enter the building a few moments before she was shot three times in the chest and once in the head.

Alexey Simonov of the Moscow human rights group Glasnost Defence Foundation said: ”The facts are based on real evidence. But I’m not sure the prosecution will be able to find the real people who ordered this killing. I’m afraid that the case will be turned towards London, and to people like … Boris Berezovsky.”

Most independent observers believe the shooting was linked to Politkovskaya’s professional work, with suspicion falling on Russia’s security services and the pro-Moscow Chechen forces that control Chechnya. Politkovskaya was about to publish an article on torture and kidnappings in Chechnya by pro-government gangs.

On Monday, Chaika said: ”A native of Chechnya, the leader of a Moscow organised criminal ring specialised in contract killings, was behind this.”

But he also revealed that serving members of Russia’s federal security service (FSB), the successor to the KGB, had a hand in her killing. They had worked with officers in Russia’s Interior Ministry and police, he said. All have now been sacked.

In the weeks before her killing, five law-enforcement officers trailed Politkovskaya, collecting evidence about her movements. They then passed them to her assassin, Chaika said.

Black sheep

The revelation is startling given that the FSB was headed by Putin before he became president in 2000. But Chaika ruled out the possibility that the FSB or the Interior Ministry had arranged Politkovskaya’s death. ”I exclude this absolutely. Every family has a black sheep,” he said.

He failed to offer evidence against Berezovsky whom the Kremlin accuses of being behind the murder of the dissident Alexander Litvinenko.

Instead, Chaika launched an elaborate attack on Britain, accusing officials of refusing to cooperate with Moscow’s requests for Berezovsky’s extradition. ”Unfortunately the British judiciary is not taking a very constructive stand on this issue, which in my opinion runs counter to international law,” he said.

The Chechen-Berezovsky-FSB gang could have been behind other high-profile murders, including that of the American journalist Paul Klebnikov in 2004, he said.

On Monday, Politkovskaya’s paper, Novaya Gazeta, welcomed the arrests but said it was ”premature to speak about her murder being solved”.

”The people who carried this out, their helpers and the real people who ordered this, must be identified and convicted,” it said.

Vyacheslav Izmailov, a friend and columnist on the paper, confirmed the trail appeared to lead to Chechnya. ”It’s a very complicated case because it involves both those who ordered the murder and those who carried it out. There are Chechens [among those arrested]. But not only Chechens,” he told the Guardian. Asked whether those arrested had carried out her killing, he said: ”I don’t know.”

Dmitry Muratov, Novaya Gazeta‘s editor in chief, described the arrests as ”serious” and said the suspects had been detained between August 15 and 23. They included ”former and acting member of the siloviki” — Russia’s military and security services, he said.

”These people in their free time and away from their main work … carried out criminal businesses, including contract murders,” he said.

During her reporting career, Politkovskaya reserved her strongest criticism for Ramzan Kadyrov, Chechnya’s pro-Moscow president. She described Kadyrov as a ”coward armed to the teeth and surrounded by bodyguards”.

Kadyrov has denied having anything to do with her killing, saying: ”I don’t kill women.” She was also highly critical of Putin, whose rise to power followed the Russian army’s second bloody entry into Grozny, the Chechen capital, in late 1999. Putin initially chose to ignore the murder but later, he described Politkovskaya as a ”rather sharp critic … which is good”. — Guardian Unlimited Â

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