Frenkel Convicted in Kozlov Murder

APFrenkel in court in January 2007
A jury on Tuesday found banker Alexei Frenkel guilty of ordering the 2006 killing of central banker Andrei Kozlov after an eight-month trial mired in scandal.

The verdict apparently came as a surprise to Frenkel, who smiled and waved to waiting relatives right before the verdict was announced. He also ordered a taxi to take him home, state television reported.

After 5 1/2 hours of deliberations, the Moscow City Court jury convicted Frenkel and six other suspects in connection with Kozlov's contract-style murder, which sent shockwaves through the financial community.

Kozlov, first deputy head of the Central Bank, had led a campaign against money laundering and stripped hundreds of banks of their licenses, including four banks linked to Frenkel, prosecutors said Tuesday.

Court spokeswoman Anna Usachyova said the court would convene Thursday to hand down sentences. Frenkel, 36, who has maintained his innocence, faces a sentence of up to life in prison.

The jury convicted four Ukrainians — Bogdan Pogorzhevsky, Alexander Belokopytov, Alexei Polovinkin and Maxim Proglyada — of carrying out the killing and illegal weapon possession and Moscow residents Liana Askerova and Boris Shafrai of being accessories to the murder. The jury asked for leniency for Pogorzhevsky, who admitted his guilt and testified against the other suspects, and Belokopytov, who they said played a minor role in the killing.

Prosecutor Gyulchakhra Ibragimova expressed satisfaction with the verdict. "Frenkel wanted to be tried by a jury. The jury said clearly that he was guilty of organizing Kozlov's murder," Ibragimova told reporters.

"The motive for the crime was revenge," she added.

Frenkel's lawyer, Ruslan Koblev, promised to appeal. "We'll file an appeal to the European court in any case irrespective of the verdict, because in our opinion the violations made by the court and the prosecution in this process have surpassed all possible limits," Koblev said in televised remarks outside the courtroom.

Frenkel's relatives eagerly clustered outside the court Tuesday to wait for the verdict in the closed-door trial. When the door was opened just before the jury delivered its verdict, Frenkel smiled and waved to his relatives from the glass-enclosed defendant's cage, apparently confident that he would be freed.

"I think the jury will acquit him on the basis of their humanity," Frenkel's brother Mikhail said. "They wouldn't put such a sin on their souls."

Kozlov's widow read a book in the hall as she waited for the verdict. She refused to speak to reporters.

It was unclear how the jury had voted; by law, only a majority is needed to reach a verdict. The court spokeswoman said the verdict had been "nearly unanimous," while the prosecutor said later that it had been unanimous.

Three jurors were removed and charged with wrongdoing in July in what defense lawyers have denounced as a move by prosecutors to tip the jury in their favor. One of the unidentified jurors was charged with attempted obstruction of justice after he tried to bribe fellow jurors to declare Frenkel not guilty, while the others were charged with drinking in public and talking about the case, respectively.

The judge excused the jury from the courtroom several times while Frenkel made his closing remarks Thursday.

Frenkel accused prosecutors and the court of not giving him a chance to prove his innocence. "I haven't even been given a possibility to present proof of my innocence, which I have a lot of," Frenkel said Thursday.

Investigators said Frenkel, whose banks included Sodbiznesbank and VIP-Bank, lost billions of rubles as a result of Kozlov's decisions to revoke their licenses. Frenkel was arrested in January 2007.

The Central Bank's actions prompted some State Duma deputies to complain in February 2007 that licenses had been revoked without just cause in some cases and to call for the Central Bank's powers to be curbed. Their request was formally reviewed but later dropped.

In March, Frenkel suggested that Central Bank first deputy head Viktor Melnikov might be behind the killing.

The Central Bank has declined to comment on the allegation.

Kozlov, 41, and his driver were shot dead by two gunmen with automatic pistols as Kozlov was exiting the Spartak sports complex on Sept. 13, 2006. Kozlov had been at the complex in northeast Moscow to participate in a friendly football match with other members of the banking community. It was one of the highest-profile killings during Vladimir Putin's eight-year presidency.

In another scandal connected to the trial, two investigators who helped compile the court case against Frenkel were arrested in June on suspicion of trying to exhort a 1.5 million euro ($1.8 million) bribe from another private banker in return for protection. The two investigators, Dmitry Tselyakov and Alexander Nosenko of the Interior Ministry department responsible for fighting organized crime and terrorism, targeted Inkredbank vice president Pyotr Chuvilin, who is also the general director of the Spartak ice hockey club.

Staff Writer Natalya Krainova contributed to this report.