Armed Cops Storm Petersburg Court

ST. PETERSBURG -- Police wearing ski masks and wielding AK-47 assault rifles burst into a St. Petersburg courtroom, arresting a controversial politician who had been released on bail just minutes before.

Police used nightsticks Tuesday to clear a path through the courtroom and carry away Yury Shutov, who has been in jail since February awaiting trial on charges he ordered seven high-profile contract killings.

Judges had just released him on the condition he not leave the city limits. But after the judges left the chamber, police burst in and tried to apprehend Shutov.

His supporters quickly formed a ring around him and a scuffle broke out. NTV television showed police in combat fatigues and black masks jumping on tables and kicking at bystanders in the courtroom to get at Shutov, knocking down a TV camera.

Shutov, a deputy in the city's legislative assembly, recently registered as a candidate for the Dec. 19 elections to the State Duma, or lower house of parliament. If he wins, he will receive immunity from prosecution under Russian law unless parliament votes to lift it.

City prosecutors said they re-arrested Shutov on the authority of the Prosecutor General's Office in Moscow, but officials in Moscow were sending investigators to look into what happened, Interfax reported.

The motive for the courtroom raid wasn't immediately clear. Shutov is an ally of St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev, a leader of the Fatherland-All Russia electoral bloc. Fatherland-All Russia, headed by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and former Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, is viewed with suspicion by the Kremlin.

Shutov said he was beaten by investigators at the city prosecutor's office and suffered hearing and vision loss, his lawyer Andrei Pelevin said Wednesday.

Shutov has been charged in the killings of Dmitry Filipov, chairman of the board of directors of Bank Menatep St. Petersburg, killed by a radio-controlled bomb in October 1998; attorney Igor Dubovik, an adviser to the governor, who was shot in February 1998; Yevgeny Agaryov, a City Hall official in charge of cemeteries and burials, killed by a bomb in September of last year; and Nikolai Bolotovsky, the chairman of local defense contracting firm Istochnik, shot six times in the head June 1998. Shutov's supporters say the charges are politically motivated.

Shutov served five years in jail during the 1980s for forgery and embezzlement, and then was jailed for 18 months in the 1990s before being acquitted on charges of extortion, smuggling and arson.

Pelevin said police pounced immediately after the court in St. Petersburg decided to release Shutov on bail. He said that police kicked a television crew's camera, shoved a camera belonging to an Itar-Tass reporter and hit a journalist.

Andrei Korchagen, a St. Petersburg lawmaker and Shutov ally who witnessed the proceedings, said 10 masked police entered the courtroom and four of them dragged Shutov out. Korchagen said they dropped Shutov on the staircase, hit his head against the rails until he lost consciousness and dragged him into a waiting car.

Korchagen said he approached the masked men and said he was a legislator, at which point one of the men replied, "So, you will get the first bullet."

Pelevin said he was only allowed to see Shutov for a short time during which the prosecutor filed new charges of 15 counts of murder and attempted murder against Shutov. He added that Shutov was allowed to see a doctor but that he needed further medical help. Pelevin said Shutov was still at the prosecutor's office Wednesday night.

The city prosecutor's office said Wednesday that it had received a letter from the Prosecutor General's Office giving permission to arrest Shutov even if his candidacy for the Duma elections still stands, Interfax reported. Registration as a candidate confers immunity during the campaign.

Interfax reported that the Prosecutor General's Office sent a representative to inquire as to Wednesday's proceedings.

Governor Yakovlev demanded an explanation from the prosecutor's office, saying the incident in the courtroom "seemed ugly."

Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin said he intends to present to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin a formal inquiry to explain what happened in the St. Petersburg court, Interfax reported.