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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Army Men Go on Trial For Murder

Six men, including five former paratroopers, went on trial Thursday for the 1994 murder of Moskovsky Komsomolets reporter Dmitry Kholodov, one of several high-profile murders that have shaken the country in recent years and the only one that has gotten as far as the courtroom.

But defense lawyers on Thursday accused the Prosecutor Generals Office of gross violations during the investigation, and the Kommersant newspaper reported that the prosecutions case is likely to fall apart.

Judge Colonel Vladimir Serdyukov of the Moscow Military District Court opened the trial in a hall of the Matrosskaya Tishina detention prison before several television cameras. The men on trial were seated behind bars in a defendants cage.

The main defendant is retired Colonel Pavel Popovskikh, former chief of intelligence in the airborne troops. The others are the former commander of the airborne troops special squad, Major Alexander Soroka; his deputies Major Vladimir Morozov and Major Konstantin Mirzayants; businessman Konstantin Barkovsky, who had retired from the airborne troops a year before Kholodovs murder; and the deputy head of a private security company, Alexander Kapuntsov. They have been in jail since their arrests in 1998.

Kholodov had been looking into embezzlement and illegal arms trading by Russian army officers in eastern Germany as troops were withdrawn from there from 1992 to 1994. Acting on a tip from an anonymous caller, who told him he could find damning evidence against Defense Ministry leadership in a briefcase in the luggage check at Moscows Kazansky Station, Kholodov collected the briefcase Oct. 17, 1994, and brought it back to the Moskovsky Komsomolets offices. When he opened the briefcase, a bomb blew up in his lap, killing him and injuring a colleague.

Former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and former Chief of General Staff Mikhail Kolesnikov will be called to testify during what is expected to be a lengthy trial, said court spokesman Alexander Yevdokimov.

Grachev commanded the airborne troops from 1990 until he was appointed defense minister in 1992. He was fired in 1996 and publicly humiliated by then-President Boris Yeltsin.

In July 1999, when investigators wrapped up their case and handed it over to the defense, Kommersant reported that Grachev had told investigators during questioning that he had told the officers now on trial to "sort it out" with Kholodov.

Popovskikhs lawyer, Yelena Tomashevskaya, said she was convinced of her clients innocence and said the case against him was contrived by the true perpetrators of Kholodovs murder. "He was appointed to become a defendant," she said Thursday in an interview.

The prosecution and defense exchanged preliminary blows Thursday, which ended in what Tomashevskaya called a "hard-fought draw."

Prosecutors demanded that Barkovskys lawyer Larisa Move be removed from the case because she had been questioned as a witness during the investigation. Move was already representing Barkovsky when investigators called her in for questioning in what she said was an attempt to disqualify her.

The defense demanded that prosecutor Irina Alyoshina be barred from the trial because she had supervised the investigation and detected none of what the defense argues were many procedural violations. Both demands were denied.

The woman Moskovsky Komsomolets had sent as its public accuser, Olga Boguslavskaya, who appeared in court as Olga Obolina, was prevented from participating in the trial because she had been questioned as a witness, like nearly all of the newspapers employees, Tomashevskaya said.

Moskovsky Komsomolets editors could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Among several other defense pleas was Popovskikhs demand that a simulation of the explosion be repeated. The court did not rule on this request Thursday.

The defense lawyers expressed relief that the long-awaited trial has started, saying it gave them hope for justice.

"I am happy that the trial began because only the court can decide whether the defendants are guilty or innocent," Tomashevskaya said in an interview outside the prison. "I am satisfied with the judges meticulous adherence to the criminal procedural code it is so rare these days."

Serdyukov is known for an acquittal unusual in Russian courts that he handed down last January in the case of the 1996 explosion at the Kotlyakovskoye cemetery, which killed 14 people. The attack was perceived as the result of a business rivalry between two groups of Afghan war veterans.

Protesting what they see as violations during the investigation appears to be an important part of the defense lawyers tactics.

"I have never seen a situation in which so many violations are gathered in one place and all of them carried out by the Prosecutor Generals Office," Move exclaimed in a telephone interview. "It is simply incredible."

She said the detectives had access to the defendants in prison and pressured several of them to incriminate themselves. The defendants were at times denied access to an attorney, Move said.

The prosecution fought hard to remove Move from the case, first questioning her as a witness and then accusing her of disclosing secrets of the investigation. Move said she had never signed a pledge to maintain secrecy.

After less than three hours Thursday, the trial was adjourned until Tuesday. The next several hearings are likely to be closed to the public, because the prosecution will read the indictment, which is classified as "top secret."