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Russia22 February 2006

The three alleged killers of Paul Khlebnikov plead not guilty

The three alleged killers of US journalist Paul Khlebnikov pleaded not guilty at their trial on 20 February which is being held behind closed doors.

The hearing had been adjourned after a bomb alert on 16 February.

Prosecutor Dmitri Shokhin outlined the case against Mussa Vakhaev, Kazbek Dukuzov and Fail Sadretdinov, referring to the alleged involvement of Vakhaev and Dukuzov in the murder of the deputy prime minister of Chechnya, Yan Sergunin, who was killed in June 2004.

Lawyer for those who men, Igor Korotkov, said that the prosecution did not have genuine and indisputable proof. The official version of the facts said that his clients had killed Khlebnikov, without showing they had any link to the victim or any motive, while the exact role of the third accused, Fail Sadretdinov, remained as vague as ever.

The trial is now set to hear evidence from a total of 146 prosecution witnesses.

16 February 2006

Khlebnikov murder trial restarts after more than a month and behind closed doors

The trial of the three alleged killers of US journalist Paul Khlebnikov, which opened on 10 January 2006, was started again from scratch on 15 February.

The judge, Marina Komarova, had stepped down for health reasons at the beginning of the month and the magistrate, Vladimir Usov, was appointed to replace her. Under the law, the trial then had to resume from the beginning.

At the opening of the trial, the new judge rejected a request from the lawyer for one of the defendants for the proceedings to be heard in public. He refused on the grounds that the charges involved secret documents.

One of the three accused, Fail Sadretdinov, attempted to commit suicide by cutting open his veins on 10 February. He is reportedly charged with organising the murder of the journalist or of being an intermediary between all the other people involved in the murder, but his exact role in the case remains unclear.

Two other people suspected of being accessories to the killing, Mahommed Dukuzov and Mahommed Edilsultanov, as well as Kozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, the suspected instigator, are still being sought by police.

12 January 2006

Trial of Khlebnikov’s alleged killers begins in secrecy after questionable investigation

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Reporters Without Borders today condemned the manner in which three people are being tried for the 2004 murder of US journalist Paul Khlebnikov, the editor of the Russian edition of the US magazine Forbes, and the poor quality of the investigation that preceded the trial, which began yesterday in Moscow and is being conducted in secrecy.

The three defendants Musa Vakhayev and Kazbek Dukuzov, who are of Chechen origin, and Fail Sadretdinov, of Tatar origin - appeared in court yesterday and pleaded not guilty to the charges of murder. The prosecutor’s office claims that the murder was an act of revenge against Khlebnikov by Chechen separatists, with whom the defendants are linked, according to the Russian secret services. Last June, the FSB (the former KGB) accused Chechen rebel leader Khozh Akhmed Nukhayev of ordering the murder. The details of the case are classified.

“Paul Khlebnikov did not mince his words,” Reporters Without Borders said. “He was famous for his sensational revelations about links between the oligarchs and the Chechen warlords. The authorities should not ignore this aspect. The lack of transparency in the preparation of this case raises questions about the impartiality of the investigators and how serious their investigation really was. We also regret that the trial is being held behind closed doors.”

Last November, the daily Izvestia quoted one of the defendants, Sadretdinov, as claiming that Khlebnikov had been about to publish a report on the links of certain Russian politicians with Chechnya. The deputy editor of the Russian edition of Newsweek, Alexandre Gordeev, said last month that, before dying of his gunshot wounds, Khlebnikov had time to tell him that his killer was Russian, not Caucasian.

Svetlana Chuvilova of the All Russia’s Movement for Human Rights (Za Prava Cheloveka) told Reporters Without Borders she was outraged by the decision to hold a secret trial. She said the prosecutors gave Sadretdinov only two weeks to familiarize himself with the case, which consists of 40 volumes.

Furthermore, she said, “a recording of telephone conversations that would have proved Sadretdinov’s innocence mysteriously disappeared after being given to the investigators.” She also protested against the conditions in which Sadretdinov, who needs medical attention, is being held.

An award-winning investigative journalist, Khlebnikov was gunned down in Moscow on 9 July 2004. He had been writing for years about the Kremlin’s links with Chechen gangsters. In the 2001 book “Kremlin godfather: Boris Berezovski and the rape of Russia,” he said Berezovski, one of the Russian oligarchs, had financed the Bin Laden network in Chechnya in order to ensure Vladimir Putin’s rise to power in 2000. In “Conversations with a Barbarian,” published in 2003, he describes how Nukhayev evolved from a gangster chief to leader of an Islamist party.

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