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Vienna court convicts three in Chechen exile murder

VIENNA (Reuters) - Three Chechen men were convicted in Austria on Wednesday of their role in an exile’s murder during a botched kidnapping that authorities suspect Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov ordered.

Umar Israilov, 27, died in a hail of bullets in a shooting in broad daylight on a Vienna street in January 2009. The suspected shooter has fled the country, prosecutors have said.

Austrian investigators have said they believed -- mostly based on circumstantial evidence -- that Kadyrov ordered a kidnapping of Israilov that went awry and ended in his death.

Kadyrov’s spokesman Alvi Karimov has consistently denied Kadyrov’s involvement in the murder, which followed Israilov’s attempt to bring the Kremlin-backed leader on torture charges before the European Court of Human Rights.

The Vienna court handed the men sentences of life, 19 years and 16 years, the Austria Press Agency reported.

Prosecutors had demanded life sentences for Chechnya-born Otto Kaltenbrunner, Suleiman Dadayev and Turpal Ali Yesherkayev on charges of abetting murder, acting as a foreign agent and conspiracy. The defendants’ attorneys had called for acquittals.

The three men were also ordered to pay damages of 25,000 euros ($35,940) to each of Israilov’s close family members.

The court’s attempt to get Kadyrov to testify via video link came to nothing.

“It is up to you whether you will allow political murders to take place in Austria,” prosecutor Leopold Bien told the jury.

Amnesty International official Heinz Patzelt hailed the verdict and appealed to Russia to follow up on the case, noting the court had made clear “the people in the background are to be sought abroad and that this is a political contract murder.”

Chechnya remains volatile a decade after Moscow drove separatists out of power in the second of two wars. The Kremlin credits Kadyrov, who fought against Russia in the first war but then switched sides, with maintaining security in the region.

But rights activists say that in return for relative stability the Kremlin turns a blind eye to Kadyrov’s heavy-handed rule and torture at home and abroad, accusations he has consistently denied.

Dubai police have accused a close adviser to Kadyrov, Adam Delimkhanov, of masterminding the March 2009 killing of Chechen Sulim Yamadayev in the emirate, which he denied.

Yamadayev’s brother Isa has accused Kadyrov of killing Sulim, as well as of orchestrating the 2008 murder of his other brother Ruslan, though Isa has since made peace with Kadyrov.

Additional reporting by Sylvia Westall