4 Min Read
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian investigators said on Friday they would press charges against a man they accuse of arranging the killing of journalist Anna Politkovskaya, five years to the day after the Kremlin critic's death.
The announcement indicated authorities are eager to display progress toward solving a murder that blackened then-President Vladimir Putin's reputation and underscored the dangers faced by
Russians fighting against corruption and rights abuses.
Colleagues and activists said they doubted the investigation would reveal who had killed Politkovskaya, 58, who was gunned down in her Moscow apartment building on October 7, 2006.
Investigators said they believe Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, a native of Chechnya who is serving a prison term for another killing, was contracted in July 2006 to organize Politkovskaya's murder.
"New evidence has come to light in the investigation into the murder of ... Anna Politkovskaya," federal Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said in Berlin during a visit to Germany.
"Gaitukayev received the order to kill Anna Politkovskaya in exchange for money," he said.
Markin said authorities were still trying to determine who was ultimately behind the killing of Politikovskaya.
Many Kremlin critics fear that will never happen.
"Today there is hope that some of the direct perpetrators will end up in the dock, but I am afraid we will never hear the names of the real organizers," said Oleg Orlov, director of the human rights group Memorial.
"I would not rule out that they could be found in political circles -- that is why we will not hear their names," he said.
"As long as Putin is in power, I think the person who ordered the killing will not be found," prominent rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said at a commemoration function.
The case came to symbolize the muffling of free speech and corruption of the political and judicial system during the 2000-2008 presidency of Putin. He is now prime minister but plans to return to the Kremlin in the March 2012 presidential election.
Rights groups say 19 journalists have been victims of contract killings in Russia since 2000 and none of the masterminds of the murders has been jailed.
Politkovskaya won awards and made enemies with her reporting of high-level corruption across Russia and rights abuses in Chechnya, where Russia has waged two wars against separatists since the 1991 Soviet collapse.
Rights groups and her Novaya Gazeta colleagues have criticized the slow pace of the investigation, which was nearly shelved after a jury acquitted three defendants in 2009. The Supreme Court later threw out the decision and returned the case to prosecutors.
The emergence of Gaitukayev as a suspect came after a series of developments this year, and charging him would bring the authorities closer to a new trial.
Suspected triggerman Rustam Makhmudov, a brother of two of the men acquitted in 2009, was arrested in May after years on the run.
Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, the ex-head of a police surveillance unit who had been a witness in the case, was arrested in August and has been charged for his alleged role -- assembling those who carried out the slaying and giving the killer the gun.
Markin said another man, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, who was also acquitted in the initial trial, is to be charged for his alleged role helping track Politikovskaya's movements in the days before her murder.
Markin said Gaitukayev was supposed to be charged on Friday, but that his refusal to accept a lawyer had delayed the indictment, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
On Thursday, U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the United States welcomed the arrests of suspects but that "justice will not be done until all those involved in the crime are identified and prosecuted."
Additional reporting By Olga Petrova in Berlin; Editing by Steve Gutterman