By: MIKE ECKEL
The former head of a district in Chechnya has been charged as an accomplice in organizing the execution-style murder of a Russian investigative journalist, his lawyer said Friday.
Shamil Burayev, who was detained by police last week in Moscow, was charged with “complicity in murder as an accomplice” in the death of Anna Politkovskaya, defense lawyer Pyotr Kozakov told The Associated Press.
He gave no further details, but he later told the Interfax news agency that Burayev had maintained his innocence in the face of police interrogation.
“Burayev said he has nothing to do with this crime. This is his clear position, and he is determined to prove it and to defend his honest name,” Kazakov was quoted by Interfax as saying.
Prosecutors could not be reached for comment late Friday.
Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika has said the Oct. 7 murder of Politkovskaya was organized by a Chechen criminal group in Moscow that specialized in contract killings. Among the 10 suspects who had been detained were five law enforcement officers, including an officer with the Federal Security Service, accused of tracking Politkovskaya and providing her killers with information, he said.
Burayev was the head of Chechnya’s Achkoi-Martan district administration for eight years until 2003, when he was fired by then-Chechen President Akhmad Kadyrov. He also ran for president of the region.
Chaika did not name those arrested, but he said Politkovskaya knew the person who ordered the killing and had met with him. The Federal Security Service – Russia’s main security agency – later identified its arrested officer as Lt. Col. Pavel Ryaguzov.
Earlier Friday, Chechnya’s rights ombudsman cast doubt on reports of Burayev’s involvement, saying investigators were stacking their evidence to find a scapegoat from Chechnya.
“The main thing is to claim that Burayev and other Chechens are suspected of organizing the murder of the journalist,” Nurdi Nukhazhiyev was quoted by Interfax as saying. “I am convinced that Burayev is neither directly nor indirectly related with Politkovskaya’s death.”
Politkovskaya’s persistent reporting of atrocities against civilians in Chechnya angered the Kremlin and the Kremlin-backed Chechen leadership but won her international acclaim.
Her killing deepened Western concerns about the safety of journalists and government critics in President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.