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Sergei Sokolov: "Do not dare say the murder of Anna Politkovskaya is Solved" [Novaya gazeta]

posted 24 Oct 2016, 04:51 by Rights in Russia   [ updated 29 Oct 2016, 10:55 ]
7 October 2016

By Sergei Sokolov, deputy chief editor 


[In a book published a month before the 10th anniversary of her murder, the official spokesman of Russia’s Investigative Committee claimed that the Politkovskaya murder had been solved (Vladimir Markin, Russia’s greatest 21st century crimes, 2016). The complacent indifference of the authorities towards their defective investigation of the crime was recently attacked in her newspaper Novaya gazeta by its deputy chief editor, Sergei Sokolov. As the trial of opposition politician Boris Nemtsov’s alleged killers begins in Moscow this earlier investigation and trial raises many doubts about the proceedings and the evidence it will hear. - John Crowfoot (translator)] 

Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead ten years ago – the man who ordered her killing has still not been identified 

Our fellow journalists ask us what we at Novaya gazeta feel on 7 October 2016. Ten years have passed since a slender, courageous, beautiful and strong woman, Anna Politkovskaya, was shot at point-blank range in the very entrance to her home.

We feel anger.

We feel angry about those who dared to plan such a crime and carry it out.

We feel angry about those doing nothing to find the person who, intoxicated by his own impunity, ordered this killing. How many more victims does that man have on his conscience? How many people would not have died if he had been prosecuted for the order he gave on 7 October 2006?

We feel angry when representatives of the State lie and say that the case has been solved. That is what Vladimir Markin, official spokesman of the Investigative Committee, wrote in his book.[1] That is how the deputy Minister of Justice, Georgy Matyukhin, tried to justify Russia’s record on the case to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

A political killing is not solved when the perpetrators of the crime have been convicted. That is not true until the man who ordered the killing has been found.

That is why in November 2015 Vera and Ilya Politkovsky, Anna’s children, brought a complaint against Russia in the European Court in Strasbourg, accusing the Russian government of conducting an ineffective investigation into their mother’s murder. Their complaint was accepted, and the Russian authorities were sent a number of questions to answer.[2] This is a summary of the Russian reply:

“The Russian authorities consider that the investigation into the murder of A.S. Politkovskaya was conducted in accordance with the provisions of Article Two [Right to Life] of the European Convention [for the Protection of Human Rights]. It met the requirements for a comprehensive, thorough and prompt investigation and, as was shown by the conviction of a large number of people who took part in the organisation, preparation, and direct execution of the crime, it was effective”.

In the lengthy and voluminous document submitted by the Russian side nothing was said about attempts to find the man who ordered the killing. There was no indication that the investigators had any ideas about possible suspects or that the investigation was ongoing.

Imposed from above

The main interpretation of the crime was imposed on the investigators by their political superiors, those in charge of Russia and of the country’s law-enforcement agencies.

A few days after Anna’s murder on 7 October 2006 Prosecutor-General Yury Chaika announced that he was certain the person behind the killing was an enemy of Russia, one of the oligarchs hiding abroad. This “fresh” suggestion was taken up by his deputies (it’s worth remembering that the investigators did not yet belong to a separate agency).

That was how Boris Berezovsky first appeared as the chief suspect in the case. That was how tons of rubbish were added to the case files, filled with the depositions of provocateurs, scoundrels and other dubious characters who knew nothing but claimed to have heard things or have grounds for supposing …

Someone forced all this on the investigators.

For six months the investigators wasted their time on this nonsense, until the real suspects, those who had committed the crime, began to loom on the horizon. Even after their arrest, however, the identity of any other possible instigator of the murder was not taken seriously. What Chechen lead? The only lead was that which led to London.

The main organiser of the crime, police officer Pavlyuchenkov, who was long presented by the investigators as the chief witness, tried to escape his own responsibility by asserting, again and again, it was Berezovsky. Perhaps that was why they did not want to imprison Pavlyuchenkov? But, alas, no confirmation of the “oligarch’s involvement” could be found, as even the Investigative Committee admitted.

The time wasted on this “lead” was catastrophic.

Agency rivalry

The trail of the suspects was picked up in the summer of 2007. By then it was already known that investigations would no longer be a part of the Prosecutor’s Office, but come under a separate Investigative Committee. The power struggle between the agencies reached a peak. If the Prosecutor’s Office could solve this major crime before it lost its powers to investigate then it could show how efficient it was.

It was decided to detain the suspects – a decision that, in my view, was not just hasty but criminally premature. Eleven people were arrested of whom only three were later convicted. It is by no means certain that the others were not in some way involved. No time was permitted for detective work, however, for surveillance, phone-tapping, and establishing who the contacts of the suspects were.

This was even true when it came to their family ties. It would not have been possible, otherwise, for the killer Rustam Makhmudov to go into hiding (his brothers Ibragim and Djabrail were eventually convicted). After a federal warrant was issued for Makhmudov’s arrest he lived under another name. Yet it would have been easy to find this out, and learn of the protection he was receiving from the FSB and Internal Affairs officers: with their help he was able to change the name on his ID document, get a foreign travel passport and leave Russia with his family. There was no time for such measures, however. An order to arrest the suspects had been given.

How they protected their own

In 2014 towards the end of the second trial it was officially acknowledged that serving police officers and KGB agents had taken part in the murder of Anna Politkovskaya. This only became clear thanks to the determination of the Politkovskaya family’s lawyers, Anna Stavitskaya and Karinna Moskalenko, and the persistence of Novaya gazeta’s journalists who conducted their own investigation.

We found a witness, a major witness, who put everything in perspective. However, we had to hide him, not so much from the criminals who were not yet arrested as from special service officers who did not want him to testify. We learned that those who kept track of Politkovskaya in preparation for her murder were professionals from the specialised department of the Moscow police force. They were paid to keep her under surveillance in working hours, using official vehicles, at the request of their superior, Lieutenant-Colonel Pavlyuchenkov (the same valuable “witness” who kept on and on about Berezovsky). He also took money to organise the killing.

Yet another organiser of the killing, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, an FSB agent and member of the Lazanskaya criminal gang, miraculously surfaced again – after the FSB had destroyed their phone-tapping records of his conversations as being “of no practical value” and there was no longer any reason to conceal his identity. We then found out that the killer, Rustam Makhmudov, had also been recruited for special operations by the FSB when there was already a federal warrant for his arrest in connection with another crime.

A great deal now became clear, but too late.

The first trial in 2008-9 which ended in the acquittal of the two Makhmudov brothers and ex-police officer Sergei Khadjikurbanov had already taken place. There was too little evidence and the witnesses who appeared before the jury were none other than Lieutenant-Colonel Pavlyuchenkov and Lom-Ali Gaitukayev.

… It would be possible to continue this list of complaints about the “effective” investigation by recalling, for instance, the appalling number of leaks to the press. But let us focus on its main shortcoming.

The collapse of the investigation


As soon as the court convicted the three Makhmudov brothers, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, Lieutenant-Colonel Pavlyuchenkov (in 2012) and former organised crime officer Khadjikurbanov in June 2014 the group of investigators, once large in number, was disbanded.

One investigator, Petros Garibyan, remained. He was left on his own to track down the man who ordered Politkovskaya’s murder while he continued, again on his own, to investigate the 2004 killing of Paul Khlebnikov, chief editor of the Russian version of Forbes magazine. (There is a considerable overlap between the two crimes, including those accused and, possibly, the identity of the man who ordered both murders.)

Then in 2015 Garibyan retired.

*

The man behind Anna’s murder can breathe a sigh of relief and give the order to eliminate someone else – if he has not already done so.

The cases of the Politkovskaya and Khlebnikov murders have been passed on to separate investigators who are no longer of a general’s rank, but only that of a major. Nothing more has been heard about the investigation into Anna’s killing.

So do not dare say that the murder of a slender, courageous, beautiful and strong woman, Anna Politkovskaya, has been solved.

Translated by John Crowfoot [John compiled, edited and translated Anna Politkovskaya's first book in English, A Dirty War (2001)]
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[1] https://meduza.io/feature/2016/09/07/vladimir-markin-napisal-knigu-no-koe-chto-pozaimstvoval-u-novoy-gazety. “Vladimir Markin has written a book, but borrowed a few things from Novaya gazeta”, Meduza.io, 7 September 2016.

[2] http://kommersant.ru/doc/2862323 “Politkovskaya’s children have complained to Strasbourg about the investigation”, Kommersant, 25 November 2015.
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