Supposed Killers and a Just Plain Crook

More information is coming out about the individuals arrested for Anna Politkovskaya’s murder. Moskovskii komsomolets gives a run down of the suspects. The most high profile suspect is Pavel Riaguzov, 37, a former FSB lieutenant-colonel at the Moscow City Directorate. Riaguzov has been under FSB suspicion for some time for his alleged involvement in organized crime. Riaguzov’s specialty is surveillance. Investigators claim that he tapped Politkovskaya’s phone.

Four others under detention are former police officers Dmitri Lebedev, Dmitri Grachev, Oleg Alimov, and Alexei Berkin. None of them currently work for the police. Their specialties were, according to the Moscow daily, “external surveillance”. I take this to mean that they specialized in tails and monitoring Politkovskaya’s activities outside her home.

There is also Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, 40. Four years ago, Khadzhikurbanov led a police sting against business man Frank Alcapone (aka Fizuli Mamedov). The latter was arrested for possession of a kilo of heroin, which Alcapone ‘s bodyguards claimed police planted on him. He was eventually acquitted for lack of evidence.

Then there are the three brothers Makhmudov–Tamerlan, 36, Dzhabrail, 49, and Ibrahim, 25. All three are Chechen natives. Tamerlan and Ibrahim are Moscow residents, while Dzhabrail resides in Zaraisk, Moscow oblast. Authorities claim that the three had no particular grievance against the outspoken journalist and only participated in the caper for a large sum of money. Murad Musayev, the lawyer for one of the brothers, dismissed the charges as “scare-mongering,” telling the RFE/RL’s North Caucasus Service that Russian Prosecutor General Chaika’s press conference “resembled a certain collage of populist cliches — sort of an essay that combined all the demons of Russia. Individuals from Chechnya, corrupt law-enforcement people, someone vicious and scary who is sitting abroad and contemplating a revolution in Russia, and so on.” He claimed that there was no evidence against his client and that he “did not even know who Politkovskaya was before his arrest,” adding that it appears that only two people are actually connected to the crime. Musayev also claims that his client has been repeatedly abused by Russian police during interrogation, “including being hit over the head with a bottle.”

Then there is the alleged driver (there is always a driver) Akhmed Isayev. Isayev drove the three brothers to the scene. Isayev, a former fish monger and father of one year old triplets, is said to have aided the brothers in obtaining documentation to purchase the car used in the crime.

So far only the Chechens have been officially charged with the murder. It also appears that the Russian authorities aren’t the only ones interested in the perpetrators. Ivars Godmanis, Latvia’s Interior Minister, is planning to ask Russian authorities if they have any information on whether their suspects operated in Latvia. Godmanis thinks that the group might be connected to two unsolved homicides.

Russian Prosecutors are clearly looking to get as much political mileage out of the arrests as the can. Chaika is also claiming that the 10 suspects (or 11, it’s unclear) might also have committed the murders of Forbes journalist Paul Klebnikov and Russia Central Bank head Andrei Kozlov! From the sound of it, these guys are a killing machine that is usually only found on celluloid.

And while the Russian media is focusing on the identities and backgrounds of those arrested, the foreign press, and its Russian representatives, remain focused on the allegation that Berezovsky is behind the murders. The Moscow Times ran an editorial saying that prosecutors will eventually have to provide proof that the hit was commissioned from abroad. If not “questions will linger over whether they carried out an objective investigation or simply built their case around the notion that any action besmirching the Kremlin’s reputation must have been ordered by foes-in-exile.”

Fred Weir of the Christian Science Monitor also devoted his column inches to the Berezovsky connection. Quick to point out the obvious, that Chaika’s assertion that the real criminals hail from abroad was a “political statement”, Weir proceeded to devote the bulk of the article to dismissing the notion of Berezovsky’s involvement.

Sadly, Weir is not alone in beating up on the outrageous claim that Berezovsky was involved. The San Francisco Chronicle filled their report on the arrests with a slew of experts to refute Chaika’s “enemies from abroad” claim. Several papers dealt with the same topic ad nauseum: The New Zealand Herald, Reuters, The Telegraph, and The LA Times. There are more, but you get the picture.

But it seems that the Berezovsky connection is being taken seriously in some quarters. It is no surprise that some Russian politicians are pimping Berezovsky as the devil. Russian Lower Duma rep Gennady Gudkov told Vesti that Politkovskaya’s murder falls into a slew of recent attempts “to compromise the Russian state.” In blog post on the subject, AJ Strata thinks that the idea holds some water. Bucking the supposed conventional wisdom, Strata claims that Berezovsky could certainly be behind the murder, and it could be part of a wider attempt to foment a coup against Putin.

I for one don’t buy the Berezovsky claim and think that it should be quickly dismissed as political theater. One shouldn’t make much of the fact that Russian authorities take any opportunity to bash BAB. As they should. The guy is a bastard and I have no doubt in my mind that he’s criminal that should be extradited to Russia and prosecuted. I also think that if there is one murder that sticks to Berezovsky it is Paul Klebnikov’s. Klebnikov rightly vilified BAB in his Godfather in the Kremlin, exposing the robber baron for numerous crimes. If the British had any sense of justice, they would toss him to Putin’s salivating prosecutors.

But to focus on Berezovsky’s involvement in Politkovskaya’s murder is only fit for the tabloids. It is clear that much of the Russian media understands politics when they see it and instead have moved on to more substantive issues in the story. Ironically, through their constant denial, the very people who reject Chaika’s claim are inadvertently championing its possibility. The constant mention of Berezovsky’s name, even though Chaika himself never once mentioned it, can result in one walking away with some suspicion that maybe he is involved. After all, if the claim is that ridiculous, then why all the effort to dismiss it so forcefully?