Russia3 February 2009
Irregularities and flawed investigation render Politkovskaya murder trial meaningless
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The trial of four people accused of journalist Anna Politkovskaya’s murder resumed today before a military court in Moscow after the latest of many adjournments. Marked by many irregularities, the trial has exposed gaps in the investigation and has raised the question why the case was handed over to a court so soon.
“This trial has seen major anomalies since it began more than two months ago,” Reporters Without Borders said. “The press and public have been repeatedly excluded. Hearings have often been postponed. And the lack of evidence against Politkovskaya’s alleged killers deprives it of any significance.”
The press freedom organisation added : “We have a right to ask why this case was brought to court as its stands. One thing is clear : the case cannot be regarded as closed when this trial is over.”
The trail resumed today before judge Evgeni Zubov after a 10-day adjournment and another postponement yesterday because one of the jurors did not turn up.
The latest irregularity has been the new versions of the telephone records of three of the defendants - Dzhabrail Makhmudov and his brother Ibrahim, and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov - that were submitted to the court in response to a request on 20 January by one their lawyers, Murad Musayev. He had voiced scepticism about the first versions, as two calls made between the two brothers appeared in the records of one of the brothers but not the other.
More doubts were voiced about the second versions of the records submitted to the court by the telephone company MegaFon on 2 February. Musayev said he was confident that, if further contradictions came to light, the campaign would submit yet another “corrected” version. Anna Stavtitskaya, one of the Politkovskaya family lawyers, said the case should never have been brought to trial in its present conditions especially as, according to the law, the investigation could have continued until next month.
These were not the first questionable developments. On 12 January, the judges presented the court with the details of the phone calls made and received by Politkovskaya the day she was gunned down in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building, 7 October 2006. The last call on the records provided by the Federal Security Service (FSB) at the request of the judges was at 2:46 pm, although Politkovskaya called her mother at 3:00 pm.
As the prosecution is trying to establish a link between her last movements, her phone calls and her murder, these details are an essential element in the trial, as is the FSB’s role in transmitting the records.
The phone company used by Politkovskaya insisted it did not have a record of any other calls or, at least, that the record had not been kept. “We could possibly obtain important information from this record that the FSB does not want to reveal,” Reporters Without Borders was told at the time by Karina Moskalenko, another of the lawyers representing the civil parties. Finally, after a new request, the required document was received by the court on 19 January.
Another puzzling element is the absence of a key witness, a former member of the prison service called Platonov who told investigators he saw a grey car outside Politkovska[ya’s apartment building on 4 and 5 October with a woman at the wheel and a man in the back. He also reportedly said he saw Ibrahim Makhmudov follow Politkovskaya into a supermarket shortly before the murder.
This key witness did not appear when he was called to testify on 11 January and, although he was interrogated by investigators and his contact details were taken, he can no longer be located. The address in the case file is incomplete and no one answers calls made to his phone number.
Meanwhile, the two main defendants in this trial, the Makhmudov brothers, are incapable of answering the most basic questions. They claim they do not remember where they were or what they did on the day of the murder.
Dmitri Muratov, the editor of the newspaper that Politkovskaya worked for, Novaya Gazeta, testified at today’s hearing, pointing out that Politkovskaya was very critical of the Chechen authorities and that Lom-Ali Gaytukayev, the uncle of the Makhmudov brothers, had links to the Chechen authorities and to two of the former suspects, former FSB Lt. Col. Pavel Ryaguzov and former Chechen official Shamil Burayev.
The defence lawyers claimed today that the gun used to shoot Politkovskaya came from Dagestan and that the person who sold it has already been arrested and tried. Musayev said he would submit a copy of the verdict when it was the defence’s turn to present additional evidence. The trial is scheduled to continue tomorrow.
Two days after the trial began on 17 November, Judge Zubov ordered that the press and public be excluded from the courtroom. Closed-door hearings were ordered three more times in the course of the next two months. Zubov today said he expected that four or five more full-day hearings would be necessary before the jury would be asked to reach a verdict. Additional information, including new evidence and testimony, could be presented in the final days.