New trial ordered in editor's death

November 10, 2006|By David Holley | David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- The Russian Supreme Court yesterday overturned the acquittal of three suspects and ordered a new trial in the 2004 slaying of U.S. investigative journalist Paul Klebnikov.

In May, a jury had acquitted two ethnic Chechens charged as contract hit men and a third suspect accused of links to the killing. The prosecutors appealed the case, which is possible under Russian law even after a not guilty verdict.

Many observers had been skeptical of the government's case against the Chechens, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, and the third defendant, Moscow notary public Fail Sadretdinov. But Klebnikov's family issued a statement welcoming the decision to hold a retrial.

The Supreme Court's action "confirms that blatant procedural irregularities took place in the lower courts, and that these cannot be ignored," said the statement issued by Klebnikov's widow Musa, brothers Michael and Peter, and sister Anna Brinsmade.

"The high court's willingness to review and rectify the many errors of the trial shows that Russia's legal system has the ability to monitor itself," the statement read.

Klebnikov, who was editor of Forbes magazine's new Russian edition, was shot by someone in a car one night as he walked home from work. Fellow journalist Alexander Gordeyev, who reached him as he lay bleeding on the sidewalk, said Klebnikov had told him the gunmen looked Russian.

The previous trial had been held behind closed doors, making it difficult to judge the strength of prosecutors' evidence or the case made in the suspects' defense. Prosecutors said the closed trial was necessary to protect the confidentiality of methods used to gather evidence.

The family urged in its statement that the retrial be open to the public.

The statement also expressed disappointment that "those who ordered this crime are still at large two years after the fact."

Igor Korotkov, a lawyer for Dukuzov, again asserted his client's innocence yesterday.

Prosecutors argued in the first trial that the defendants had carried out a contract killing ordered by Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, a Chechen businessman and alleged organized crime figure turned separatist leader about whom Klebnikov had written a critical book. Nukhayev's whereabouts are unknown.

Critics of the case have argued that it was more likely Klebnikov was killed by someone worried about what he would write in the future.

David Holley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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