Leaks Damage Politkovskaya Investigation

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For almost a year, the Prosecutor General's Office and its Investigative Committee have been competing over who could reveal more sensitive information on the investigation into the murder of journalist Anna Politkovskaya.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika fired the first salvo in this battle of disclosures by announcing the arrest of 10 suspects in August, although none was charged at the time and some were later released.

Chaika also declared in August that the killing had been organized from abroad by anti-Kremlin forces trying to discredit Russia. He did not provide any evidence to back his claim.

Then in October, "sources close to the investigation" disclosed the names of several detained suspects. The leaks continued throughout the winter and into this year.

Last month, the Investigative Committee formally charged three suspects -- Dzhabrail Makhmudov, Ibragim Makhmudov and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov -- with complicity in organizing the murder. The committee also announced that the murder investigation was completed, even though the suspected killer had not been arrested or the mastermind identified.

Instead, the committee's head, Alexander Bastrykin, disclosed on Tuesday that the suspected hit man, Rustam Makhmudov, 34, was hiding in Western Europe. More "sources close to investigation" said he might be hiding in Belgium.

Chaika could not stop from trying to steal the limelight, announcing Wednesday that his office has been hunting for Makhmudov since 2001 in connection with a series of crimes committed before Politkovskaya's murder.

This raises the serious question of how Makhmudov was able to evade arrest for the five years before Politkovskaya, 48, was shot to death in her central Moscow apartment building in October 2006 -- and then was apparently able to flee Russia for Western Europe without detection.

Politkovskaya's family and colleagues at Novaya Gazeta, where she worked, have rightfully demanded that the Investigative Committee and Prosecutor General's Office conduct internal investigations and prosecute those guilty of leaks.

No internal investigation has been opened.

Reluctance to stop leaks or punish those who have disclosed sensitive information might be a result of bureaucratic rivalry between the Prosecutor General's Office and the Investigative Committee, which was spun off from the prosecutor's office last year. But rather than compete over who can disclose more information to claim credit for solving the murder, these agencies should stop the leaks that have allowed both the murderer and those who ordered the hit to keep abreast of all major developments in the case. By doing so they would lay to rest claims by pundits who are publicly wondering whether the leaks were made not out rivalry but to disrupt the investigation before it leads to untouchables in the ruling elite.