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Belarus11 March 2005

Judge cancels request for psychiatric examination of Veronika Cherkasova’s son

Judge Igor Krot of the Tsentralny court in Minsk on 9 March cancelled the request for a psychiatric examination of Anton Filimonov, the 15-year-old son of journalist Veronika Cherkasova, who was murdered in her home in October 2004.

On 31 January, the judge had ordered a psychiatric examination of Filimonov to determine whether he was mentally disturbed at the time of his mother’s death. Shortly before her murder, Cherkasova had been investigating the possibility that the Belarusian government sold arms to Iraq when Saddam Hussein was in power.

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Investigators urged to explore possibility that journalist was killed because of her work

4 March 2005

Reporters Without Borders today called on those investigating the murder of Veronika Cherkasova, who was found stabbed to death in her home in Minsk on 20 October 2004, to explore the possibility that it was linked to her work as a journalist instead of concentrating on the theory of a crime of passion and trying at all costs to implicate her family.

Cherkasova was looking into the possibility of arms sales by the Belarusian government to Saddam Hussein, the press freedom organization said, but the person in charge of investigating her death, Vladimir Chumachenko instead ordered a new psychiatric examination of Cherkasova’s 15-year-old son, Anton Filimonov, on 31 January.

Chumachenko, who had no success with the investigation into the disappearance of cameraman Dmitri Zavadski in 2000, said in an interview for Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty on 10 February: "We do not exclude any hypothesis in Veronika Cherkasova’s murder, not even the presence of Martians."

Reporters Without Borders said: "Several facts that support each other suggest that Cherkasova was very probably murdered because she was working on a particularly sensitive investigation."

The press freedom organization added: "We would hope that the investigation headed by Vladimir Chumachenko will be carried out with complete impartiality and in a desire to shed full light on this case, and we therefore call on him and the interior minister to consider the theory that seems most probable to us, that she was killed because of her work as a journalist."

A report by Sergei Satsuk on 21 January in the independent daily Belorusskaya Delovaya Gazeta supported the theory that the murder was linked to Cherkasova’s work. Quoting a criminologist’s findings, he said she was probably murdered by a professional killer who embellished the murder scene to make it look like a crime of passion.

It was after she was already dead that the killer probably smeared the walls with blood to make it look like a family quarrel that went too far, he argued. No other sign of struggle was found in the apartment, aside from a broken glass on a carpet. Blood was also found on the victim’s notebook but the investigators have not yet determined what the killer was looking for there.

A month before her death, Cherkasova was investigating possible arms sales to Saddam Hussein by the Belarusian government together with money-laundering, in particular, the financing of military contracts with Iraq by a company called Infobank. She had several meetings in Minsk with someone who used to work with Infobank on contracts with Iraq, who she had first met on a press trip to Baghdad organized by Infobank three years before.

The murder investigation, however, is currently focussing on Cherkasova’s family. The Minsk first deputy prosecutor, Nikolai Starovoitov has signed the request for a psychiatric examination of Filimonov that was demanded by Chumachenko. The investigators justify this saying he was not cooperative during interrogation. One of the aims of the examination would be to determine if he was psychologically disturbed at the time of his mother’s murder.

Prosecutor’s office investigators went to Filimonov’s school on 1 February to take him to a psychiatric hospital, but he ran away and went to his grandparents’ home. The next day, he flew to Moscow to join his father, a journalist with the daily Izvestias. A Minsk court meeting behind closed doors on 22 February rejected a request from Cherkasova’s mother, Diana Cherkasova, to cancel a judge’s ruling ordering a new psychiatric examination for her grandson. The decision was due to come before an appeal court today.

Filimonov was already in a psychiatric hospital from 29 November to 16 December with post-traumatic depression.

The investigators also regard Vladimir Melechko, Cherkasova’s father-in-law, as a suspect. Alarmed by his inability to reach her by phone, he went to her home and found her dead body with a dozen stab wounds.

Chumachenko was the official in charge of investigating the case of Dmitri Zavadski, a young cameraman with the TV station ORT who disappeared on 7 July 2000. Four years later, the case is closed, although those who kidnapped Zavadski have never been identified and the possible involvement of senior officials was never properly invest

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