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Investigators link Chechen leader to Vienna murder

VIENNA (Reuters) - Austrian investigators believe that Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov ordered the kidnapping of an exile in Vienna that went awry last year and ended in the man’s killing, the Vienna prosecutors’ office said on Tuesday.

Ramzan Kadyrov, the President of Chechnya, speaks during an interview with Reuters at his private offices near the town of Gudermes outside the Chechen capital Grozny, December 16, 2009. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov

A spokesman for the prosecutors, Gerhard Jarosch, said a report on the findings of a year-long criminal investigation by Austria’s police and domestic intelligence agency came to this conclusion based mostly on circumstantial evidence.

Kadyrov’s spokesman denied the president’s involvement and dismissed the Austrian allegations as unfounded.

Chechen exile Umar Israilov was shot dead on the street in January last year after shopping for groceries in a working class district of Vienna. Three suspects held in connection with the killing may be indicted in the coming weeks, Jarosch said.

Evidence including from witnesses to the shooting suggested the murder was not planned as such but that it was a kidnapping that went wrong, Jarosch said.

“The (agency’s) report says, verbatim: ‘It has to be assumed that the kidnapping was indeed ordered from the highest level -- in brackets Kadyrov’,” Jarosch said.

Russia fought two wars during the 1990s against Chechen separatists and eventually tamed the province by allowing rebels from the Kadyrov clan who switched sides to take over the local government.

Kadyrov has pleased the Kremlin by calming Chechnya, but rights activists have expressed alarm at extrajudicial killings in Chechnya and abroad. Kadyrov is also accused of having orchestrated the murder of an opponent in Dubai, a charge his spokesman has denied.

Asked about the findings in the Austrian case, spokesman Alvi Karimov said: “Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has nothing to do with this murder.”

He added: “All of these are concocted, unfounded charges which are not confirmed by any facts.”

Jarosch said that there was no “smoking gun” in the agency’s report directly proving involvement by the Chechen government.

But circumstantial evidence included call data for mobile phones some of the suspects were carrying, Jarosch said, and a photograph on the phone of one suspect, a Chechen named Otto Kaltenbrunner, showing him sitting next to Kadyrov on a sofa.

Kaltenbrunner’s lawyer Rudolf Mayer said his client was innocent and that if there was indeed such a picture and such a call, they were not related to the murder.

Jarosch said prosecutors were working on charges against the suspects, based on the findings of the police and the agency.

He said prosecutors would now study the report to decide what action to take.

Reporting by Boris Groendahl in Vienna and Dmitry Solovyov in Moscow, editing by Mark Trevelyan