Case seems to fray in reporter's killing

2 of 10 Russian suspects reportedly released

August 31, 2007|By David Holley | David Holley,LOS ANGELES TIMES

MOSCOW -- A high-profile case in which Russian police, security officers and others were accused of involvement in the killing of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya appeared to be unraveling yesterday, just days after the arrests were announced.

Two suspects, identified previously by a Moscow newspaper as former surveillance specialists for the Moscow police, were reported to have been released. Authorities said a third figure named in the case, a Federal Security Service officer, actually had been arrested in an unrelated investigation.

Another newspaper reported that a fourth suspect was in prison at the time of the slaying.

Politkovskaya, a fierce critic of President Vladimir V. Putin who gained international acclaim for her reporting on Moscow's actions in war-torn Chechnya, was gunned down in her apartment building in October.

Russian Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced Monday that 10 suspects had been arrested, including former and current officers of the Interior Ministry and the Federal Security Service (FSB), the domestic successor agency to the Soviet-era KGB. Those officers had worked with a Chechen-led contract murder gang, Chaika said.

Some Russian media reported that 11 suspects had been detained.

"The big problem now is that after the prosecutor general made his statement, lots of leaks began both from official and unofficial sources, which creates a huge problem for the investigation," said Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor in chief of Novaya Gazeta, the newspaper where Politkovskaya worked.

"I don't want to comment on why some suspects were released today, because that may also harm the investigation," he added. "All I can say now is that all the people arrested several days ago still may have something to do with the murder."

With her critical reporting, Politkovskaya made many enemies among Russia's security and military forces and among supporters of pro-Moscow Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov. Her admirers suggested after her death that people from these groups might have been responsible.

But pro-Kremlin media and Putin himself suggested that her slaying had been ordered by critics of Putin living abroad in order to make Russia look bad.

In announcing the arrests Monday, Chaika repeated that charge without offering any evidence. He claimed that the damage to the image of Russian authorities from her killing was so great that it must have been ordered by Putin's enemies.

Yesterday would have been Politkovskaya's 49th birthday, and about 200 admirers gathered in a downtown square to honor her memory. Some then walked to her apartment building, where they placed photographs of her and laid flowers near the entrance.

Among them was Garry Kasparov, a former chess champion who is now an opposition leader. Kasparov said that the prosecutor's comments showed that he was in too much of a hurry to prove to the Kremlin that he was in line with its struggle against Putin's opponents based abroad.

Analyst Andrei Kortunov, president of the New Eurasia Foundation think tank, said the investigation was now coming under heavy political pressure.

Alexander Kupryazhkin, the FSB's internal security department chief, told reporters Monday that Lt. Col. Pavel Ryaguzov of the agency was in custody and suspected of "illegal activities related to the Anna Politkovskaya case."

Yesterday, however, a spokesman for the Moscow District Military Court backed away from that statement. "The reasons why Ryaguzov was arrested have no relation to the case dealing with Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya's murder," Alexander Minchanovsky told the Russian news agency Interfax.

A Moscow court released the names of 10 suspects Wednesday, but did not include Ryaguzov.

David Holley writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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