New charges in Politkovskaya slaying

A former police officer was formally indicted today for the murder of Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya. However, he denies any involvement in the crime, and has refused to testify in court.

­Investigators have confirmed that Sergey Khadzhikurbanov, a former policeman from Moscow’s Central Department for Combating Organized Crime, was officially charged with taking part in the planned contract killing of Anna Politkovskaya.

“Khadzhikurbanov has been charged due to the fact that, having been released from prison on September 22, 2006, he went on to lead an organized criminal group in both the preparation and the actual commission of the murder of Anna Politkovskaya,” an official spokesman for the Russian Investigative Committee Vladimir Markin told ITAR-TASS news agency.

According to the version of events put forward by investigators, in June 2006, Lom-Ali Gaitukayev received payment to carry out the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.  In order to execute his plans, he formed a criminal group, which included Lieutenant Colonel Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, Gaitukayev's nephews (the Makhmudov brothers) and Khadzhikurbanov, who had recently been released from prison in September of that year, Markin told Interfax news agency.  

However, ITAR-TASS reports that according to a source in law enforcement, today’s charges are practically indistinguishable from previous ones.  Rather, the source claims that the decision to recharge Khadzhikurbanov is in fact connected with the appearance of new defendants, in particular Gaitukayev and Rustam Makhmudov.

Rustam Makhmudov was arrested in Chechnya on May 31 and charged later in June. Accusations have long circulated that he was the gunman who ultimately carried out the hit.  He is the brother of Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, two men who were previously tried and acquitted for their participation in the contract killing.  

As for Gaitukayev, he, along with Lt. Colonel Pavlyuchenkov, were both charged on September 2 of this year. Gatytukaev is already serving time for unrelated charges of attempted murder.  

Pavlyuchenkov, who at the time of Politkovskaya’s death was the head of surveillance for Moscow’s main internal affairs directorate, was charged with gathering information about the journalist’s movements and sharing it with members of the criminal group.  He would later plead guilty upon striking a deal with police.  

Khadzhikurbanov for his part has denied any involvement in the crime and has refused to testify.  

According to his lawyer Aleksey Mikhalchik, there is nothing concrete in the indictment since, in his opinion, investigators can not even clarify what his client’s alleged involvement in the affair is, ITAR-TASS reports.

This is not the first time Khadzhikurbanov has faced charges relating to the slain journalist and human rights activist.  

In October 2008, Khadzhikurbanov, along with Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, stood trial for the murder of Anna Politkovskaya.  

Although all three defendants would eventually be acquitted on February 19 2009, on June 25 of that year the Russian Supreme Court overturned the verdict and ordered a retrial for the three defendants.  

Today's announcement concerning Khadzhikurbanov is in keeping with a previous promise made by investigators to mark the fifth anniversary of Politkovskaya’s murder.   Earlier this month, it was announced that new charges would be filed against previously arrested suspects.  

Markin also said today that new charges are in the works for Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov, who are currently under house arrest, Interfax reports.  

Politkovskaya, who wrote extensively on corruption in Russia and was severely critical of the Second Chechen War, was shot in the elevator of her Moscow apartment building on 7 October 2006.  The assassination generated considerable international attention.  

While the fact that she was killed on then-President Valdimir Putin’s birthday fueled speculation that the Kremlin might have had their hand in the affair, senior officials in the Russian government have always countered that those ultimately behind Politkovskaya’s killing were seeking to destabilize the country.