Chechen Accused of Organizing Politkovskaya Slaying

Prosecutors said Monday that the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya was organized by a Chechen man who had previously been a witness in the trial of three men charged in her slaying, a lawyer for one of the defendants said.

Behind closed doors at the Moscow Military District Court on Monday, prosecutors said Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, the uncle of defendants Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, organized Politkovskaya's murder through a third defendant, former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, according to Khadzhikurbanov's lawyer, Andrei Litvin.

All three defendants say they are innocent.

Gaitukayev is serving a 12-year prison sentence for the attempted murder of a Ukrainian businessman, and prosecutors told the court that he passed the task of killing Politkovskaya on to Khadzhikurbanov because he could not carry it out himself while in jail, Litvin said.

The ultimate figure behind the murder, however, remains unclear. Prosecutors said Gaitukayev was acting at the behest of someone else in organizing Politkovskaya's killing.

The judge in the trial closed off part of Monday's session to the public because of the fact that some of the evidence being presented had been classified as a state secret.

Politkovskaya, who wrote critical reports in Novaya Gazeta about human rights abuses in Chechnya, was shot dead in the elevator of her apartment building in October 2006, rekindling fears about the safety of journalists working in the country.

Karina Moskalenko, a lawyer for Politkovskaya's family, told the courtroom Monday that the three men currently on trial for the killing were just pawns and the real killers are at large.

Rustam Makhmudov, suspected of shooting Politkovskaya in 2006, is on the run. Prosecutors have never identified who ordered the killing.

"The whole thing has been organized at a high level, not at the level of the defendants," Moskalenko told the jury as legal teams in the lengthy trial began their closing arguments.

(MT, Reuters)