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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

2 Go on Trial in Klebnikov's Murder

Itar-TassKlebnikov lawyer Maslennikova
Two ethnic Chechens charged in the murder of U.S. investigative reporter Paul Klebnikov went on trial Tuesday before a judge who has handed down tough sentences in other high-profile trials and a jury of 11 ethnic Russians and a Georgian.

Also on trial in the Moscow City Court is a Moscow notary accused of ordering the two Chechens to kill a businessman in an unrelated case.

Prosecutor Dmitry Shokhin, who led the state's case against Mikhail Khodorkovsky last year, read out the charges against the trio over the course of two hours.

The two Chechens, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, and the notary, Fail Sadretdinov, then entered pleas of not guilty.

"They denied all the charges and said that they would prove their innocence before the judge and the jury," Dukuzov's lawyer, Ruslan Khasanov, told reporters.

The trial is being held behind closed doors after the Prosecutor General's Office classified its investigation into Klebnikov's murder as secret.

One of Sadretdinov's lawyers, Ruslan Koblev, said the case had been made secret because four pages describing secret methods used by the Federal Security Service to collect evidence against the defendants had been included in one of the prosecution's 38 volumes of case materials.

Klebnikov, 41, the editor of Forbes Russia, was gunned down outside Forbes' Moscow office on July 9, 2004. His former colleague Alexander Gordeyev told Newsweek in remarks published last month that Klebnikov called him as he was dying and described the killer as an ethnic Russian.

Prosecutors, however, say Dukuzov pulled the trigger and that he and Vakhayev killed Klebnikov on orders from Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, a reputed Chechen crime boss who is believed now to be living in Azerbaijan. Nukhayev was the subject of a critical book by Klebnikov titled "Conversation with a Barbarian" and published in 2003.

Nukhayev and two other ethnic Chechens, including Dukuzov's brother, are wanted in connection with the murder.

In addition to Klebnikov's murder, the defendants are charged with attempting to kill Alexei Pichugin, a Moscow businessman from whom the trio allegedly tried to extort money. Pichugin is no relation to former Yukos security chief Alexei Pichugin, who was sentenced to 20 years in prison on murder charges last year.

Dukuzov and Vakhayev were arrested in Belarus in November 2004 and extradited to Russia in February. Sadretdinov was arrested in Moscow in May.

On Tuesday, the three defendants could be briefly seen through a courtroom door, standing in a bulletproof glass cage.

Klebnikov's family was represented by Moscow lawyer Larisa Maslennikova, who said she would only participate in the parts of the trial that directly related to Klebnikov's murder. "In everything else, we will remain only as witnesses, observing the trial's compliance with the law," she said outside the court.

Maslennikova added that Klebnikov's family "believes in justice in Russia and is counting on common sense from the jury."

After the hearing, Sadretdinov's lawyers accused Judge Marina Komarova of manipulating the jury's perception of the case in order to please prosecutors. Koblev said Komarova forbade defense lawyers from disclosing any information about Pichugin.

"The law prohibits disclosures about the lives of defendants in jury trials but says nothing about other participants of the process," he said.

Another Sadretdinov lawyer, Pyotr Sursky, called into question Pichugin's signed testimony against the defendants, which he said had led investigators from the notary to the two Chechens.

Dukuzov's lawyer, Khasanov, accused prosecutors of collecting evidence that only implicated the Chechen defendants in Klebnikov's slaying. He noted that Klebnikov's colleague had called the killer an ethnic Russian.

"No one could mistake Dukuzov, who is accused of pulling the trigger, for a Russian," he said. Dukuzov has a dark complexion typical of a native of the Caucasus.

Koblev also accused the judge of intimidating defense lawyers on Tuesday. "It was like a circus inside," he said. "When we asked questions she didn't like, she threatened to write a complaint to the bar association."

Komarova is known for meting out tough sentences in high-profile cases. In 2004, she sentenced researcher Igor Sutyagin to 15 years in prison on espionage charges; in 2003, she handed long sentences to four young women accused of the bombing of a Federal Security Service building in central Moscow in 1999; and in 2001, she sent former diplomat Valentin Moiseyev to prison for 4 1/2 years on charges of spying for South Korea. Last year, she also sentenced a Chechen woman to nine years on charges of planning a terrorist attack in Moscow's Okhotny Ryad underground mall.

The jury consists of seven women and five men.

Lawyers said defense requests to include ethnic Chechens and Tatars were rejected. The notary is an ethnic Tatar.

The 11 ethnic Russians and single ethnic Georgian on the jury are all Moscow residents, lawyers said.

Khasanov expressed hope for a fair hearing, even though, he said, the case was built on widespread prejudice against Chechens rather than real evidence.

"The jurists seem to be ordinary people, just like the defendants, and this adds to their chances of being acquitted," he said.

Defense lawyers said the trial would last about two months if hearings were held every day. The next hearing was scheduled for Wednesday.

A second court representative of the Klebnikov family, Alexei Brevnov, a spokesman for the Klebnikov family, reiterated Tuesday that the family had asked Russian authorities to hold an open trial because "openness in the civil process in Russia was what Paul was striving for."

The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, a leading media freedom watchdog, on Monday again criticized the decision to close the trial.

"A transparent and credible prosecution is necessary not only to ensure justice in the Klebnikov case but to end the murderous cycle of violence against journalists in Russia," committee executive director Ann Cooper said in a statement.