Under fire, Russia orders new Politkovskaya probe

20th February 2009, Comments 0 comments

Politkovskaya, a journalist who had been highly critical of Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment building in 2006 after returning from a shopping trip.

Moscow -- Russia on Friday ordered a new probe to find the killers of crusading journalist Anna Politkovskaya after the "total failure" of a three-month trial that saw all four suspects acquitted and freed.

A jury acquitted the four men on Thursday, none of whom had in the first place been charged with shooting dead the reporter, let alone ordering the apparent contract killing.

The judge in the trial ordered investigators to resume their probe into the case, which rights lawyers and activists have said has shown the impunity with which contract killers are allowed to operate in Russia.

"The criminal probe must return to the prosecutors' investigative committee with the aim of finding the individuals linked to the committing of this crime," Judge Yevgeny Zubov was quoted as saying.

Wrapping up the trial, the court Friday formally returned a not guilty verdict against all the accused based on the jurors' findings.

The Russian press lashed out at the first investigation and trial, which the respected opposition daily Kommersant said had ended in "total failure."

The centrist daily Vremya Novostei added: "We need the real killer."

Politkovskaya, who had been highly critical of Russia's strongman and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, was shot dead in the lift of her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006 after returning from a shopping trip.

"The Politkovskaya verdict tops the long history of the inability of Russia's authorities to provide safety to embattled journalists," said Miklos Haraszti, media representative for Europe's security body OSCE.

Highlighting the international interest in solving the killing of one of the few Russian reporters prepared to criticise the authorities, the United States swiftly called on Russia to continue the investigation.

"We regret that her murder is remaining unsolved," said US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid. "We urge the Russians to try and find those who are responsible and bring them to justice as quickly as possible."

A French foreign ministry spokesman said it was essential that her killers be caught as the "Russian people have a right to the truth."

Her family also criticised the verdicts.

"I think that all four of them are linked to the murder of my mother in one way or another," Politkovskaya's son Ilya Politkovsky told reporters alongside his sister Vera.

Politkovskaya had written dozens of articles for the Novaya Gazeta newspaper and a book called Putin's Russia, which accused the Russian strongman of using the Chechen conflict to strangle democracy in the country.

Rights groups have long lamented the shortcomings of trial, which despite lasting three months failed to shed any significant light on the circumstances of the killing.

During the hearings, the defense team pointed out that the suspects' DNA had not been found on the weapon and that phone calls made by the accused at the time did not prove their presence at the murder scene.

International press watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the trial had been marked by "incoherence and opacity" from the outset.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it was "disheartened by the continued impunity" in the case. "No prosecution will be complete until the triggerman and mastermind are in the dock."

The jury acquitted all four suspects after Thursday's hearing. Chechen brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov had been accused of driving the killer to the scene of the murder of the Kremlin critic.

Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, a former police investigator, had been charged with providing logistical assistance for the murder.

Pavel Ryaguzov, a former agent of the FSB security service, was not directly accused of being part of the murder. He was instead accused of extortion in another aspect of the case.

Stuart Williams/AFP/Expatica

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