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Russian Court Finds Chechens Guilty in Murder of Opposition Leader Nemtsov

  • Daniel Schearf

From left: Temirlan Eskerkhanov, Shadid Gubashev, Khamzat Bakhayev, Anzor Gubashev and Zaur Dadayev — defendants suspected of involvement in the killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov — stand in a glass enclosure during their trial in a Moscow military district court in Moscow, Russia, June 27, 2017.

A Moscow court on Thursday found five Chechen men guilty in the 2015 murder of Russian opposition leader and former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down just meters from the Kremlin and Moscow's Red Square.

After an eight-month trial, the jury ruled by majority against brothers Shagid and Anzor Gubashev, Ramzan Bakhayev, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov and Zaur Dadayev, who was found guilty of shooting Nemtsov six times in the back. Dadayev initially confessed to the crime but later recanted, saying he was tortured into the confession.

FILE - Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov attends a rally in central Moscow, April 6, 2013.
FILE - Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov attends a rally in central Moscow, April 6, 2013.

The men face from eight years to life in prison when the sentences are announced next week.

While the verdicts were welcomed by supporters of Nemtsov, the investigation and trial were condemned for failing to uncover the masterminds of the killing or addressing the motive, which is widely believed to be political.

Nemtsov's daughter: 'Case unsolved'

Nemtsov's daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, a journalist with German broadcaster Deutsche Welle, called the case unsolved.

In an exclusive interview with VOA's Russian Service on Wednesday, Nemtsova noted that while there was motive for the perpetrators — $250,000 allegedly promised for the murder — there was no attempt to establish who wanted Nemtsov killed and why.

"So the investigators and the court are doing their best to hinder establishing the motive," she said. "It is obvious for Russians and for Europeans and Americans and for people all over the world that it was a political murder, it is a murder of the former deputy prime minister of Russia — that has never happened in contemporary Russian history. And they are cowardly denying it. They are denying an obvious thing without offering any other convincing motive," Nemtsova said.

FILE - Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, is shown during an interview with The Associated Press in London, Feb. 25, 2016.
FILE - Zhanna Nemtsova, the daughter of Russian opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, is shown during an interview with The Associated Press in London, Feb. 25, 2016.

Investigators had initially claimed the accused men were motivated by Nemtsov's support for the satirical French magazine Charlie Hebdo, which controversially depicted Islam's Prophet Muhammad.

Chechnya is a conservative Muslim republic of Russia run by strongman Ramzan Kadyrov, who rules virtually independent of federal authorities because of his close relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

"I suspect that Vladimir Putin knows much more about the circumstances of this murder than me and he possesses a complete knowledge of this murder and I, as an injured party, don't," Nemtsova said. "Why hasn't Ramzan Kadyrov been summoned to court?"

Kadyrov connection?

Nemtsov's family demanded investigators question Kadyrov, but it didn't happen. Kadyrov, who denies any connection to Nemtsov's murder, had infamously praised Dadayev as a "true patriot" just after his arrest. And, a month after Nemtsov's death, Putin awarded Kadyrov for his service to the nation.

Dadayev was a former member of Chechnya's elite Sever police force and his commander, Ruslan Geremeyev, was supposedly being sought for questioning. However, investigators claimed they could not find him. Another wanted man blew himself up in the Chechen capital before he could be questioned, according to Russian media reports.

Last year, the Chechen leader released a video showing other Russian opposition leaders in a sniper's crosshairs.

"Still they haven't found any of the persons who ordered the attack or any of the organizers," Vadim Prokhorov, Nemtsov family lawyer, told the Associated Press as he was leaving the courthouse. "This is a complete fiasco, of course. It is completely obvious that the government did not have any intention over these past two years to find the real organizers and instigators. Even though we said that it is needed to investigate at least in the closest circle of Mr. Kadyrov, and we will continue to ask for this."

Vadim Prokhorov, who represents the family of killed opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, speaks to the media after Nemtsov's murder trial in Moscow, Russia, June 29, 2017.
Vadim Prokhorov, who represents the family of killed opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, speaks to the media after Nemtsov's murder trial in Moscow, Russia, June 29, 2017.

Russian police are still looking for Geremeyev's driver, Ruslan Mukhudinov, who investigators say was the mastermind. Many critics, including Nemtsova, are dumbfounded by this claim.

"It is mind blowing that the ringleader would be a driver of Ruslan Geremeyev," she said. "And what's his motive? How did he come up with 15 million rubles [$250,000]? These are, you know, absolutely discrediting details of how this investigation is going."

Process could take years

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Wednesday noted those who ordered the killing had not been found, but that such a process could take years. After the verdict Thursday, he said it was up to the Investigative Committee — not the Kremlin — to decide on any further legal action.

However, few believe those behind the killing will ever face justice as a number of Kremlin and Kadyrov critics have been murdered, but only the hitmen were jailed.

Nemtsov's murder took place in one of the most heavily policed and videotaped areas of Russia. But, suspiciously, no video has ever been found of the killing and the perpetrators were able to escape the area before their arrest.

"Russians were polled by the Levada center in March 2015 and more than 50 percent of them, when asked whether the case would be solved, said 'No,'" Nemtsova noted. "So, we understand too well what kind of a state we live in. Political murders are not solved here."

VOA's Danila Galperovich contributed to this report.

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