Russia arrests suspected Politkovskaya killer

31st May 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia has arrested the Chechen fugitive suspected of shooting dead journalist Anna Politkovskaya nearly five years ago in a crime that shocked the world, officials said Tuesday.

Rustam Makhmudov, 37, has been accused in the investigation of firing a series of bullets into Politkovskaya's body in her apartment building when she returned from shopping on October 7, 2006.

"Makhmudov has been arrested in Chechnya, he will be delivered to Moscow shortly for the necessary investigation procedures," spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin told the Interfax news agency.

Makhmudov was arrested Monday night in Chechnya at the home of his parents, the lawyer of the family Saidakhmet Arsamerzayev told AFP.

The arrest marks a potential breakthrough for the investigation which has been ridiculed for its failure to convict any suspect or identify the mastermind of the crime half a decade after the killing.

Police sources told Russian agencies that Makhmudov was captured in Achkhoi-Martan district of Chechnya, southwest of capital Grozny. He was to be flown into the Russian capital Tuesday.

"We are expecting that he will be taken to Moscow," Arsamerzayev said, adding that the defence would seek to disprove key video evidence said to show the face of Makhmudov.

"I have always said that investigators don't really need to arrest Rustam, because his arrest will not confirm that he is the killer," Arsamerzayev said.

"Right now it is clear that Rustam was not difficult to capture. He was hiding of course, but even so, he was taken at his house," he said.

The bitterly anti-Kremlin reporter had won international prizes for her reports for the opposition Novaya Gazeta newspaper accusing the Russian strongman Vladimir Putin of using the Chechen conflict to strangle democracy.

The arrest was welcomed by the Novaya Gazeta. "We hope that the jury can see for themselves that the prosecution was right and that it was him (Rustam)" who gunned down Politkovskaya, said editor-in-chief Dmitry Muratov.

"The arrest will help establish the truth," he said.

The reporter's son Ilya Politkovsky however said that even if Makhmudov is convicted for pulling the trigger, it is not likely that the crime's mastermind will ever be found.

"Even if the prosecution established it was him, we will never have the name of the person who ordered the murder," he told AFP. "This question will always remain open."

Rustam Makhmudov's brothers, Dzhabrail and Ibragim, and former police officer Sergei Khadzhikurbanov have been investigated for several years over suspected involvement in the killing.

All three were acquitted on a lack of evidence in a jury trial in 2009, but the verdict was annulled by the supreme court and a new investigation reopened with the same suspects.

Rustam Makhmudov is suspected of being the killer and had been on the run until now while the mastermind of the killing has never been named, let alone detained.

Putin said in the days after her murder that the killing was "an unacceptable crime that cannot go unpunished" but also described her ability to influence political life in Russia as "insignificant".

Politkovskaya had also attacked Chechnya's leader Ramzan Kadyrov, who has dismissed her reporting as "children's tales" and claimed the murder was orchestrated from London by exiled billionaire Boris Berezovsky.

© 2011 AFP

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