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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kidnappers of 12-Year-Old Sentenced

The Moscow city court on Friday sentenced 12 men to five to 10 years in prison for the brutal kidnapping of a 12-year-old Israeli boy in 1999. A 13th defendant was found innocent and released.

Lawyers for the Russian and Chechen defendants called the verdict too harsh and promised to appeal. Relatives of the Chechen convicts said the case was politically motivated.

Adi Sharon and his father, Yosef, a prominent Israeli businessman, were abducted in August 1999 in western Moscow. The boy was whisked away to Penza, a town 560 kilometers southeast of Moscow, where he was kept for more than nine months in a small, dark pit. The kidnappers told Adi, who did not speak Russian, that he was being kept in Dagestan.

His father was freed a day after the kidnapping on condition he pay $8 million for his son's release. The ransom demand was eventually dropped to $150,000. To pressure Yosef Sharon into paying, the kidnappers beat Adi and cut the ends off his two little fingers. They sent the fingers and video cassettes showing the beatings to his father.

Yosef Sharon went to the police in October 1999 after a $50,000 payment failed to win his son's release.

The boy was freed seven months later in a police raid of the Penza dacha where he was being held. He was badly malnourished, couldn't stand or walk, and several of his fingers and toes had gangrene.

He was brought to Moscow and placed in a hospital, where he was reunited with his father.

Several days later, then-Interior Minister Vladimir Rushailo flew the boy back to Israel.

The 13 kidnapping suspects -- eight Russian and five Chechen men, mostly in their 20s -- were arrested in May and June 2000 and charged with kidnapping and extortion. The trial started in February.

Dozens of friends and relatives of the defendants crammed into the court Friday for the sentencing. Absent were the Sharons, their representatives and Israeli officials.

Nine policemen surrounded the defendants' steel cage, where the 13 men were handcuffed in pairs. The 11 lawyers who defended them stood for 2 1/2 hours while Judge Pyotr Shtunder read the verdict.

The court ruled that the masterminds behind the kidnapping were the three Vitayev brothers, ethnic Chechens, and that they had recruited acquaintances in Moscow and Penza to implement the plan.

The defendants showed no remorse during the sentencing, chewing on candies and trading loud remarks with each other and their relatives in the courtroom.

When the judge began to describe how the kidnappers cut off Adi Sharon's fingers, defendant Ruslan Vitayev said loudly: "We should have cut off his head instead."

One defendant, Konstantin Goryachev, managed to get out of his handcuffs during the proceedings, and a police officer snapped them back on tightly. A moment later, Goryachev, brandishing a swollen wrist, demanded that the handcuffs be unlocked and loudly called the police Gestapo officers.

"Unlock the boy," his relatives started shouting.

The judge had to stop reading to order that the handcuffs be loosened.

The defendants continued to disrupt the court. They told an NTV cameraman to stop filming them, joked about the sentencing and taunted their guards.

The mother of one of the defendants pleaded with her son to be respectful, saying, "Stop it, they have nightsticks and you don't."

Ruslan Vitayev's wife entertained him by holding up photos of their relatives.

Before the sentencing, Judge Shtunder said the court had taken into consideration all possible mitigating circumstances to give the defendants the lightest possible sentences.

The Vitayev brothers -- Ruslan, Khizir and Shakhman -- got 10 years, eight years and eight years, respectively.

"I was expecting to get a medal," Ruslan Vitayev said on hearing his verdict. He was also accused of cutting off the first of Adi Sharon's fingers.

Salyayev got 10 years for cutting the second finger.

Alexei Krivtsov, who gave himself up to police, got five years in prison, whole most of the rest were sentenced to six to eight years.

The court ruled that prosecutors failed to sufficiently prove Raibek Usmanov's involvement in the kidnapping and released him on an amnesty.

The judge said the defendants had seven days to appeal.

"It would be sensible [to appeal] because there is a discrepancy between the crime they were accused of and the punishment they got," said Alexander Molokhov, the lawyer of Sergei Rudnev, who got seven years for participating in the abduction and keeping the boy in captivity in Penza.

Lom-Ali Khatsiyev, Khizir Vitayev's lawyer, said that investigators had not sufficiently proven that his client had participated in the kidnapping.

Lena Maleyeva, a young woman in a bright red blouse and stiletto boots, said the six-year sentence handed down to her brother Alexei was not befitting his involvement.

"Alexei knew nothing about the kidnapping, they just used him as a driver and paid him," she said.

The largest delegation of relatives represented the Vitayev brothers. They said Russian authorities had used the case to raise international support for the military campaign in Chechnya.

"The process here wasn't criminal but political," one sister said.

"The judge and the investigators repeatedly stressed that there were Chechens who committed the kidnapping," a cousin interrupted.

"Remember, it happened at a time when Russia was looking for international support for its campaign in Chechnya," said a burly man who would only identify himself as a cousin. "Russia found support in Israel after Rushailo took the boy there.

"The police knew about the boy's whereabouts from the very beginning but waited for a suitable political moment to rescue him," he said.

Then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak praised President Vladimir Putin for his role in the rescue, saying it showed the two countries were on the same wavelength when it comes to fighting terrorism.

The Israeli Embassy in Moscow refused to comment Friday. The Sharon family could not be immediately reached.