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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Jury Clears Politkovskaya Murder Suspects

By Alexandra Odynova / The Moscow Times

A jury on Thursday acquitted three men charged in the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a relentless critic of the country's ruling elite whose 2006 slaying rekindled fears about the safety of journalists working in the country.

The 12-member jury found Chechen brothers Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, as well as former Moscow police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, not guilty of involvement in the murder of Politkovskaya, who was shot dead in her central Moscow apartment building in October 2006.

The verdict marks the end of the often chaotic three-month trial, in which neither the gunman nor the person or persons who ordered Politkovskaya to be killed were charged.

Prosecutors said they would appeal the ruling.

Khadzhikurbanov was accused of organizing the crime, while Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov were charged as accomplices. A third Makhmudov brother, Rustam, is suspected of actually pulling the trigger in the murder but has not been apprehended. An international warrant has been issued for his arrest.

Prosecutors told the court in closed hearings this week that Politkovskaya's murder was to be organized by the Makhmudov brothers' uncle, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, who had previously been a witness in the trial, according to the defendants' lawyers.

Gaitukayev is serving a 12-year prison sentence for the attempted murder of a Ukrainian businessman, and prosecutors told the court that he passed the task of killing Politkovskaya on to Khadzhikurbanov because he could not carry it out himself while in jail, the lawyers said.

The ultimate figure behind the murder, however, remains unclear. Prosecutors said Gaitukayev was acting at the behest of someone else in organizing Politkovskaya's killing but provided no names, according to the lawyers.

Prosecutor General Yury Chaika suggested in August 2007 that the person who masterminded the Novaya Gazeta reporter's murder was hiding abroad and that the crime was an attempt to discredit the Kremlin.

In a newspaper interview last April, Dmitry Dovgy, a former senior Investigative Committee official currently under investigation for purported corruption, accused self-exiled businessman Boris Berezovsky of ordering Politkovskaya's assassination.

Khadzhikurbanov testified in court earlier this month that investigators had offered him a reduced prison sentence if he would implicate Berezovsky in the crime, according to the defendant's lawyer.

Thursday's acquittal highlights the difficulties prosecutors have shown in persuading jurors in high-profile criminal trials.

In May 2006, a jury acquitted two Chechen men, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, of the 2004 murder of U.S. journalist Paul Klebnikov in Moscow. Prosecutors said the initial trial had been flawed and appealed for a retrial. But the retrial process was suspended in March 2007 after Dukuzov disappeared.

In June, the Moscow Regional Court cleared retired Colonel Vladimir Kvachkov and two former soldiers of organizing the 2005 attack on Anatoly Chubais, the widely reviled architect of the country's 1990s privatization program. In August, the Supreme Court overturned the acquittal and sent the case back to the court.

Many defense lawyers say Russian prosecutors consistently produce shoddily crafted cases against suspects, thus leading to jury acquittals. According to 2007 data from the Supreme Court, 0.7 percent of those tried by judges were acquitted, while the acquittal rate in jury trials was 17.2 percent.

Over the course of the investigation and trial, Politkosvkaya's family and colleagues had consistently questioned the soundness of the case prosecutors built against Khadzhikurbanov and the Makhmudov brothers.