Polish court drops case on arrest of Chechen militants' envoy

The Warsaw Court of Appeal has closed the case on the arrest of a former Chechen militant leader Akhmed Zakayev, who is on the international wanted list, accused of terrorism and other serious crimes in Russia.

The Polish court dismissed an appeal by the prosecution, against a lower court ruling which saw the suspect released on the grounds of his refugee status, because he had been granted asylum in the UK. The prosecution had demanded he be detained in Poland for 40 days, after his arrest. The Court of Appeal’s ruling is final.

According to the statement following the closed-door hearings at the Court of Appeal, the fact that the case on Zakayev’s arrest is closed, does not mean that the issue of his extradition to Russia is settled.

“The district court’s conclusion that granting of political asylum to Akhmed Zakayev in the UK means a ban on his extradition is wrong. The court’s ruling on inadmissibility of the extradition was premature and mistaken,” the court verdict reads, as cited by Itar-Tass.

Russia’s request for Zakayev to be extradited is currently being considered by the Polish Prosecutor’s Office and will soon be passed to the court, which is to make the final decision on whether he will be sent to face trial in Russia.

Zakayev was not present at the hearings on Tuesday. According to his lawyer Radoslaw Baszuk, Zakayev is now busy sorting out documents in London.

“The British authorities have so far not issued him a new Geneva passport (refugee passport), and there is no more space for a new Polish visa in his old passport," Baszuk said, adding that his client will attend the court hearings on the extradition.

On September 17, Zakayev, one of Russia’s most wanted men, was detained by Polish police in Warsaw on an international warrant. He was in Poland to attend the World Chechen Congress held near Warsaw on September 16-18. Following the news of his arrest, the Russian Prosecutor General’s Office filed an extradition request.

Zakayev, Chechen militant envoy and the former self-proclaimed Prime Minister of “Independent Chechnya-Ichkeria”, was granted asylum in Britain in 2003. In Russia he is accused of a number of serious crimes including terrorism, murder, robbery, banditry and hostage taking. Zakayev, 51, has also been put on the international wanted list for “crimes against life and health, … kidnapping, organized crime, and terrorism,” Interpol’s official website states.

In the 1990s, during the first Chechen campaign, he took an active part in forming militant groups and led one of them, the so-called South-Western Front. The Russian prosecution accused the gang of 11 criminal acts, including an attempt to seize a railway station in the Chechen capital, Grozny. Over 300 policemen – who were guarding the building – were killed in the attack.

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