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10 Arrested in Politkovskaya Murder

Investigators have arrested 10 suspects -- including five police and Federal Security Service officers and three Chechen brothers -- in connection with the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya last year.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika, in announcing the arrests Monday, said Politkovskaya had known and met the person who ordered her killing and that her death was probably carried out on behalf of someone living abroad who wanted to discredit Russia.

Those arrested belong to a Moscow-based criminal group specializing in contract killings and led by an ethnic Chechen, Chaika told reporters. The group also might have been behind the deaths of Central Bank first deputy head Andrei Kozlov and U.S. reporter Paul Klebnikov, he said.

He said the arrested suspects included one FSB officer, one police major and three former police officers.

He did not identify the suspects but said they would be charged in the upcoming days.

Moscow's Basmanny District Court sanctioned the arrest of all 10 suspects Friday, said Anna Usachyova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court. She refused to elaborate.

Novaya Gazeta, where Politkovskaya worked and which is conducting its own investigation, said in a statement that the arrests were made from Aug. 15 through Aug. 23.

Politkovskaya's son Ilya, 28, said in e-mailed comments that the family was "not surprised by this news" about the arrests.

Novaya Gazeta editor Dmitry Muratov called prosecutors' conclusions "convincing," Interfax reported.

"Our names of those who organized the murder coincide with the official investigation," said the newspaper's deputy editor, Sergei Sokolov. "But the identity of the person who ordered the murder does not coincide."

Politkovskaya, who would have turned 49 on Thursday, was gunned down with two bullets to the head in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on Oct. 7.

She was a prolific author of articles -- many of which won international awards -- critical of federal actions in Chechnya, leading many observers to link her death to her job.

She frequently accused so-called Kadyrovtsy, members of Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov's elite fighting unit, of kidnapping and torture.

Her killing invoked an outcry from international media freedom watchdogs and calls from Western nations for swift action.

Chaika, who first broke the news about the arrests during a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, said investigators lacked enough evidence to name publicly the person who ordered the murder. He made it clear, however, that prosecutors believed the mastermind lives abroad and was trying to discredit the government, echoing sentiments voiced by Putin last year.

"It was in the interest of those people and structures that aim to destabilize the situation in the country, change the constitutional order and create a crisis in Russia," he said. He said the killer wanted "a return to the former system of rule under which money and oligarchs decided everything."

Once enough evidence is gathered, Chaika said, an extradition request would be made to the country where the suspect lives.

Moments later, Chaika said prosecutors were continuing to ask Britain to extradite self-exiled tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who lives in London and is wanted on charges of fraud and plotting a coup.

Berezovsky said prosecutors had not contacted him in connection with Politkovskaya's murder. "They have blamed me for almost all of Russia's ills, so I wouldn't be surprised if they charge me with this murder too," Berezovsky said by telephone from London.

Prosecutors have accused Berezovsky of involvement in the November poisoning of former FSB officer and Kremlin critic Alexander Litvinenko, saying he wanted to discredit Russia.

At a separate news conference Monday, Alexander Kupryazhkin, head of the FSB's internal affairs division, identified the FSB suspect as Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov.

The other suspects include a 25-year-old Chechen lawyer and his two brothers, said Murad Musayev, a lawyer for the 25-year-old.

Musayev said the three had been charged with murder, which carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. "All three say they are not guilty," he said, Interfax reported.

He said none of the three had been questioned over the Klebnikov and Kozlov murders or any links to Berezovsky.

The Council of Europe welcomed the arrests, and U.S. Ambassador William Burns called it "very encouraging that such progress has been achieved," Interfax reported.

Politkovskaya was the 13th reporter in Russia killed in a contract-style murder since Putin came to power in 2000, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. A lack of convictions in any of those cases has raised doubts about the state's commitment to protecting journalists and a free press.

Media freedom groups expressed skepticism about Chaika's announcement.

"We hope this announcement has not been made solely to defuse the protests of NGOs and questions from journalists who want the case solved," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement.

Oleg Panfilov, head of the Center for Journalism in Extreme Situations, said the arrests were little more than an attempt to spare Putin embarrassment on the upcoming anniversary of Politkovskaya's death.

Panfilov did not rule out, however, that prosecutors were correct to blame a Chechen-led criminal group.

Mark Galeotti, head of the Organized Russian and Eurasian Crime Unit at Britain's Keele University, said Chaika's remarks "sound like misinformation."

"To be a Chechen criminal in Moscow, you must have no links with the rebels but have good links with Kadyrov," Galeotti said.

"Politkovskaya was a living, breathing enemy of Putin. Berezovsky would have to be mad to order a hit on Politkovskaya using Chechens in Moscow."

Galeotti said there appeared to be little evidence to link the group with the murder of Klebnikov, the former editor of Forbes' Russian magazine who was shot dead outside his Moscow office in July 2004. "That was a purely business affair," he said.

An FSB officer surfaced in that case as well. On Oct. 7, 2004, FSB officer Roman Slivkin was arrested on suspicion of involvement in a kidnapping case that police linked to Klebnikov's murder. Slivkin was accused of hiring Chechen criminals to kidnap a Dagestani businessman, who was freed after a ransom was paid.

Two Chechens, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, went on trial for Klebnikov's murder last year. After Dukuzov and Vakhayev were acquitted by a jury, prosecutors appealed to the Supreme Court, which overturned the jury's decision and ordered a new trial. The retrial was to have begun earlier this year, but it was delayed after one of the suspects failed to show up for a preliminary hearing in February.

Kozlov was shot dead outside a Moscow stadium on Sept. 14.

(The Moscow Times 28.viii.07)

 
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