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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Hired Killers Should Always Dump the Car

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A few weeks ago, Prosecutor General Yury Chaika announced a breakthrough in the search for the killers of slain Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya. According to information leaked to the press, the murder was committed by two hired assassins -- the Chechen Makhmudov brothers. Politkovskaya's address was first obtained from Federal Security Service files, and then it was confirmed with the help of police surveillance. Moreover, as Chaika disclosed, "There were two surveillance teams. While one group followed the journalist, the second group was monitoring the first."

Many simply laughed at the allegation, viewing the whole investigation as an attempt by authorities to hang the murder on anti-Kremlin tycoon Boris Berezovsky, who lives in self-exile in London.

So far, two things are known with near certainty. First, investigators discovered the car used in the crime at a mechanic's shop awaiting repair. (The killers were apparently too poor to simply dispose of the vehicle.) Second, FSB Lieutenant Colonel Pavel Ryaguzov -- having never left Chechnya -- looked up Politkovskaya's address in FSB files one month before her murder. Ryaguzov then called Shamil Burayev, the former head of the Achkoi-Martan district of Chechnya.

These facts lead to a few questions.

Would it really have been so difficult for contract killers to ascertain Politkovskaya's address? They could have simply written a letter to the editor of Novaya Gazeta saying, "My name is Akhmed, and I want to relate how the authorities tortured my brother in Khankala." The rest is simple: "Akhmed" meets with Politkovskaya at a cafe and follows her home afterward. Two hours of work and complete anonymity.

Instead, for some strange reason, the ringleaders apparently looked up Politkovskaya's address in the FSB database. But the address turned out to be old, so they started tailing her. This is also quite odd. Why would those same Makhmudov brothers -- who were too poor to dump the murder vehicle -- hire professionals to track Politkovskaya to the tune of $100 per hour?

But there is more. Chaika also said there were two teams trailing Politkovskaya. That is really hard to believe. If the first team of hired tails were the police, then who was the second group? And what kind of killers fork out the cash to finance two surveillance teams yet can't afford the to get rid of the car used in the killing? Why was it necessary for a second group to check the work of the first -- did they have to report to their chief? And what kind of criminals would risk involving so many law enforcement personnel in the murder plot?

It gets worse. According to Ryaguzov's testimony, he was just a pawn who was used by the authorities without his knowledge. But one fact appears to be indisputable here: Ryaguzov found her address in the FSB database and called Burayev soon after. We can only guess whether he called those who ordered the murder or contacted the killers directly.

I do not think that while President Vladimir Putin is in office we will ever find out who ordered Politkovskaya's murder. At the same time, I have no doubt that if the case goes to court, the accused will gladly point the finger at Berezovsky or reputed Chechen crime boss Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev.

The manner in which the surveillance teams tracked Politkovskaya is absolutely not the style of hired killers; it is much more the modus operandi of a government law enforcement agency. And when Chaika mentioned the existence of two surveillance teams, he did not realize that he had put his foot in his mouth. But Chaika is accustomed to police looking up information in the FSB database as part of routine investigations. He apparently forgot that organizers of contract killings act much differently when they pass information to their hired hands.

Yulia Latynina hosts a political talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio.