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17 Sep, 2010 10:34

Polish court declines request for arrest of Chechen envoy

Chechen militant envoy Akhmed Zakayev has been released in Poland, after the Warsaw district court declined the prosecutor’s request to hold Zakayev in 40-day detention.

In the next few days the court will determine whether Zakaev should be extradited to Russia, following Moscow’s demand to turn him over.

“In our opinion, [Zakayev’s case] deserves the toughest measures – namely, an arrest,” said a spokesperson for the Warsaw District Prosecutor’s Office on Friday. “It is important to us that the extradition process in this sensitive case is carried out with due clarity and in the shortest time possible.”

Zakayev arrived in Poland to take part in the so-called World Chechen Congress, which is being held near Warsaw on September 16-18.

Akhmed Zakayev has been released from custody, which means that he will not spend the next 40 days behind bars. He will, however, spend them in Poland as he is prohibited from leaving the country pending the decision concerning his extradition to Russia.

Sergey Strokan, a political analyst from Kommersant newspaper, is convinced Poland will not extradite Zakayev to Russia.

“This is a very politically-charged issue, and as you understand the Polish ruling elite have their own limitations, their own domestic agenda, they can't go too far,” Strokan told RT.

Earlier, Mariusz Sokolowski, press secretary for Poland’s Main Police Commandant, confirmed Zakayev’s arrest and said that the detained Chechen militant had been convoyed by the police to the Warsaw District Prosecutor's Office.

“In accordance with the international arrest warrant, it was the police’s duty to detain him and take him to the Prosecutor's Office,” Russian news agency Itar-Tass quoted the official as saying.

The extradition hearing, though, is rather a long way away and the decision may not go the way Russia wants it to. Nevertheless, this is the closest that Russia has come in nine years to extraditing Zakayev and making him stand trial in Russia.

The charges that Akhmed Zakayev faces in Russia range from murder and kidnapping to extortion and terrorist and extremist activities.

Russian prosecutors believe that they have enough evidence to successfully link the man to one of the worst terrorist acts that Russia has seen in recent years, the Dubrovka Theater siege of October 2002. They also believe him to be one of the masterminds behind the ongoing unrest in Russia’s volatile North Caucasus region.

Interpol has declared Zakayev internationally wanted on Russia’s request.

According to Sokolowski, “The police kept watch over three locations where the wanted could appear.” Zakayev was detained in Bartoszewicz Street. He has entered the building of the Prosecutor's Office telling reporters on the way that he “wants to look into the matter.”

According to Konstantin Kosachev, head of Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, Poland has enough grounds to extradite Zakayev to Russia.

“I’m familiar with the evidence. It is serious. Poland will have all grounds to extradite Zakayev to Russia,” Kosachev said.

The Russian side is assuring that the extradition and trial over Zakayev, in case it happens, will proceed strictly according to international legal standards.

“The Polish Prosecutor General has said the Polish side will act in accordance with the international obligations it has taken upon itself,” said Marina Gridneva, spokesperson for the Russian Prosecutor’s Office. “[Poland’s Prosecutor General] Mr. Seremet said, and I quote, ‘Our actions will not be based on political factors but the letter of the law’. Russia's Prosecutor general Yury Chaika said that in the event of Zakayev's extradition to Russia, his rights will be observed and he will stand a fair trial in court."

Zakayev worked as a culture minister and deputy prime minister in the Chechen government in the late 1990s. He fled to Great Britain after Chechen militants were defeated in 2000. Russia issued an arrest warrant for the militant in 2001 and sought his extradition on charges of terrorism, but the UK has repeatedly refused the request and granted Zakayev asylum status in 2002.

In 2002, Zakayev was arrested in Denmark where he arrived to take part in a session of the World Chechen Congress. He spent 34 days in prison while Danish prosecutors were studying Russia’s extradition request. The request was refused and Zakayev returned to Britain. The decision caused diplomatic tensions between Russia and Denmark, and then-President Vladimir Putin canceled his visit to Copenhagen scheduled for November 2002.

Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said the prosecutor’s office informed him about their plans to initiate the extradition process, but added that the “Russian side shouldn't necessarily hope for a decision that will satisfy it.”

However, Fred Weir, journalist from The Christian Science Monitor, is quite sure Poland will not extradite Zakayev to Russia because “There is a perception that people and particularly people who are seen as opponents to the Russian government will not receive a fair trial in Russia.”

Despite Zakayev already visiting Poland in the past, this time police could not turn a blind eye to his visit because “he came to the country for a high-profile public event – the Chechen World Congress. Therefore it was impossible to ignore his presence in Poland.”

European Parliament member Pawel Zalewski says he doesn’t expect that Zakayev will be extradited to Russia, as there are a number of obstacles.

“The procedure of extradition is such that the last word belongs to the minister of justice of the Polish Republic, and that is a political decision of the government. And we have a very clear decision of the Polish prime minister that he cannot imagine that Mr. Zakayev – who stays in Great Britain, who gained political asylum there – could be expelled to Russia,” he said.

All eyes now seem to be on the significance of the warming in Russian-Polish relations and the effect that the arrest could have on them.

“If there is justice and law in the world, Zakayev should be handed over to Russia and he should be punished by law,” said President of the Chechen Republic Ramzan Kadyrov. “I am sure that Poland will make the right decision, bearing in mind the relations between Moscow and Warsaw.”

Viktor Linnik, editor-in-chief of the Russian newspaper “Slovo”, shared Kadyrov's expectations, saying he hoped that the recent warming in relations between the two nations would pormpt Poland to extradite Zakayev.

We have an improved climate in Polish-Russian [relations],” Linnik said. “This gives me hope that the matter will be pursued with respect for international law.”

However, Dr Irina Kobrinskaya from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations at Russia's Academy of Sciences believes Zakayev’s case will not affect relations between the two countries.

“I don’t think there will be big impact on Russia-Poland relations which are on the rise now,” Dr Kobrinskaya said. “Poland on one hand demonstrated that it has its own policy, and Prime Minister Donald Tusk articulated this position. But, on other hand, [the Polish government is] more loyal to Russia now and listens to Russian demands and takes Russian interests into account.”

Meanwhile, Dmitry Babich, political analyst from RIA Novosti news agency, says he does not expect Zakayev to be extradited to Russia any time soon, and thinks the whole incident may have a negative impact on the relations between the two countries.

“Since the beginning of hostilities in Chechnya in 1994… a lot of former fighters found political asylum in Poland, and a lot of refugees live there. Basically, Polish interest is in good relations with Russia. So, Polish interest would be not to allow Zakayev into Poland in the first place. But now that happened, and I don’t foresee anything good for Polish-Russian relations from that fact,” he said.

While Valery Bogomolov from Russia's State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee believes that, by traveling to Poland after it had expressed its readiness to arrest him, Zakayev purposefully intended to sabotage the country’s relationship with Russia.

Poland has been saying it will comply with international law and that it will detain a man wanted by Interpol upon arrival. Then we heard Zakayev was heading to Poland to turn himself over. Why?” asked Bogomolov. “He could go the prosecutor’s office in Britain or any other country if he wanted to, but he did it in Poland.