Chechens go on trial for killing Kremlin critic, lawyers cry foul

October 3, 2016 11:26 AM EDT

Ramzan Bakhayev, Tamerlan Eskerkhanov, Anzor Gubashev and Shagid Gubashev, who are suspected of involvement in the killing of opposition figure Boris Nemtsov, sit inside a glass-walled cage during their trial at the Moscow military district court, Russia,


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By Valery Stepchenkov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Five Chechen men went on trial in Moscow on Monday for the murder of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, but lawyers for the dead man's daughter said the investigation had failed to uncover who ordered the shooting.

The 55-year-old Nemtsov, an opposition leader and former deputy prime minister, was gunned down near the Kremlin walls late in the evening of Feb. 27, 2015, as he walked home with his girlfriend from a restaurant.

He was the most prominent opposition figure to be assassinated during the rule of President Vladimir Putin, whose government has condemned the killing and described it as a "provocation" designed to discredit it.

A prosecutor said the investigation had identified a group of Chechens who had been after Nemtsov since autumn 2014. They rented apartments in Moscow, bought a pistol and ammunition and used several cars to keep track of him.

On the day of the murder, two of the accused watched Nemtsov through a window as he dined with his girlfriend at a glitzy cafe near Red Square, the court was told. One of the men caught up with him as he crossed a bridge and fired six shots at him.

After the murder, the group went to their home region of Chechnya in southern Russia. One of the alleged gang was killed while resisting arrest.

Olga Mikhailova, a lawyer representing Nemtsov's daughter Zhanna, told reporters the investigation was not over yet and it lacked evidence: "The main figures and those who ordered (the killing) have not been found yet."

She said investigators had rejected requests by victims' lawyers to question Ramzan Kadyrov, the staunchly pro-Kremlin president of Chechnya. Nemtsov had publicly criticized Kadyrov and his security services, and accused Putin of buying the former warlord's loyalty "with trainloads of cash".

Kadyrov, who calls himself "Putin's foot soldier", has denied involvement in the crime and described Nemtsov as a minor figure. "Nemtsov did not bother me in real life because he was not on my level," he told state-controlled NTV in February.

A close relative of a senator representing Chechnya in Russia's parliament originally figured as a suspect in the investigation but was later dropped from the case, Mikhailova said.

"All this is despite the defendants' obvious link with top officials and Nemtsov's conflict with Kadyrov," Mikhailova said. "They have falsely declared the crime solved."

The court accepted a petition filed by victims' lawyers to conduct a new investigation, but nevertheless proceeded with the hearings.

"I am firmly persuaded that at least some of those who are on the defendants' bench were truly involved in carrying out this crime," said Vadim Prokhorov, another lawyer for Zhanna Nemtsova.

"Nevertheless as far as the organizers and the one that gave the order are concerned, we have repeatedly put forward motions for the interrogation of a number of top officials in the Republic of Chechnya, including Ramzan Kadyrov, (but) this has not been done yet."

Nemtsov had authored an excoriating report on Putin's rule and, shortly before he was killed, had been working on a report examining the Russian military's role in Ukraine.

(Reporting by Valery Stepchenkov and Svetlana Reiter; Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Mark Trevelyan)



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