Female DNA find clouds Politkovskaya case

Experts examining a pistol in the journalist Anna Politkovskaya murder case have discovered DNA traces belonging to a woman. The news has been confirmed by one of the suspect’s lawyers and police source.

­Investigators believe Rustam Makhmudov carried out the murder of the reporter in September 2006 on someone else’s orders. However his lawyer, Murad Musayev, says traces of sweat found on the weapon paint a different picture. The DNA was found long ago, and “it was clear then this was not the DNA of Rustam Makhmudov,” the lawyer told Interfax on Thursday.

According to the lawyer, re-inspection of the DNA samples has led to a sensational result. Musayev believes that this new evaluation of data will prove that Rustam Makhmudov is in fact innocent.

“In the previous experts' report nothing has been said about [the gender of the DNA], but there were always doubts that the executor was a man,” Musayev says. He stressed that in the security camera footage of the killer “some feminine features can be seen.”

Some photographs from the security cameras have already been published in the media, and they show that Politkovskaya was followed by a blond woman with long hair. However, until now, no evidence has been produced to show that the gun was actually handled by a woman.

Makhmudov came under suspicion in 2008 after he fled Russia with a fake passport. He was immediately put on the international wanted list.

Rustam Makhmudov was at large during the 2009 court hearing into Poilitkovskaya’s murder. Prosecutors showed surveillance camera footage which they claimed showed Rustam leaving Politkovskaya’s flat.

Due to lack of evidence, three other defendants – Rustam’s brothers Dzhabrail and Ibragim, and a former police officer, Sergey Khadzhikurbanov – were unanimously declared not guilty by a jury in February 2009. Forensic experts even failed to determine the gender of the suspected killer due to “DNA degradation.” The Russian Supreme Court, however, later annulled the acquittal verdict and ordered the reopening of the investigation.

Makhmudov was located and detained in Chechnya on May 31, 2011.  Samples for a DNA test were taken as soon as Makhmudov was arrested and compared with those found on the gun five years previously.  

Samples were re-examined in July 2011 by the Center for Forensic Examination at Russia’s Ministry of Justice. This time around the experts concluded the DNA samples did not match those of Rustam Makhmudov. Moreover, they definitely belonged to a woman.

­New evidence – but no turning point?

­However the victim’s son, Ilya Politkovsky, does not consider the new evidence to be a breakthrough in the investigation. “This is an insignificant fact,” he said. “There could be traces of another person’s DNA on the gun. It has nothing to do with Makhmudov’s guilt or innocence.”

Ilya says he expects the investigators to provide more reliable evidence of the defendants’ guilt or innocence. “Professional killers always wipe their DNA from the gun,” he added.

Anna Politkovskaya was shot dead on October 7, 2006 on the stairs of the building where she lived in Moscow as she was returning home.  Investigators say her professional activities – which included exposure of abuses committed during the prosecution of the conflict in Chechnya – provided the motive for the murder. Altogether, six people have been arrested in connection with the case.

Politkovskaya’s relatives and friends believe that the biggest challenge for investigators at this point is not just to find and punish the executors of the murder, but to identify those who contracted the assassination.