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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Afghan Veterans Await Verdict




In a long-running courtroom drama now nearing its close, prosecutors are seeking long prison sentences for three Afghan veterans accused of plotting and carrying out the bloody Kotlyarovskoye Cemetery bombing in November 1996.


A verdict is expected Friday, court officials say, in the case of Andrei Anokhin, Valery Radchikov and Mikhail Smurov.


Radchikov, the former head of an Afghan veterans group, stands accused of ordering the bombing to kill Sergei Trakhirov, head of a rival veteran's fund. The two funds fought over lucrative tax-free import privileges handed out by the government.


Trakhirov died in the blast, along with 13 others. They were attending a memorial service for Mikhail Likhodei, Trakhirov's predecessor, who was himself killed by a bomb two years before to the day. The bomb left 30 people injured.


Eventually, the government ended the import privileges after the heads of the groups who benefited were continually the victims of contract-style assassination attempts.


The trial has dragged on since April in the heavily guarded courtroom of the Moscow military district at the Matrosskaya Tishina prison in north Moscow, instead of the usual military court on Basmannya Ulitsa. Prosecutor Sergei Palshkov has asked for 15 years for Anokhin, 12 years for Radchikov and 10 years for Smurov.


Radchikov, who lost both legs in Afghanistan, has been wheeled in and placed with his two co-defendants in the defendant's cage every day. All three are veterans of elite airborne regiments.


Prosecutors charged that Radchikov paid Anokhin and Smurov $60,000 to carry out the attack. Smurov, they said, assembled and planted the bomb, but did not set it off.


But defense lawyer Igor Verbitsky says the mere fact that prosecutors did not ask for the death penalty shows they doubt the accused's guilt - although Russia has declared a moratorium on executions.


Anokhin and Smurov, arrested in April 1997, at first confessed and told police how Radchikov ordered the hit and that he gave them the bomb materials and cash. In an indication of how high profile a case it is, Anokhin was questioned by then-Interior Minister Anatoly Kulikov and former Prosecutor General Yury Skuratov


But once the trial began both Anokhin and Smurov retracted their statements, saying they had been pressured by police. Anokhin said he was given injections of drugs that weakened his resistance to questioning, and Smurov said detectives threatened he would be sexually assaulted by other prisoners if he did not confess. The two said police gave them bomb blueprints to copy and told them to claim the copy was their design.


For his part, Radchikov also said the police had given him psychotropic injections, and told the judge that he had been pressured by police to say that he had bribed top government officials to get his group's import-export privileges.


All the contradictory testimony made Judge Vladimir Serdyukov suspend the trial in July for more investigation. Not much has changed, however, now that the trial has resumed.


Smurov, who at first said he could not remember where he was when the bomb was planted, produced two witnesses who said he was somewhere else.