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Russian court orders retrial Politkovskaya case

Case of murdered investigative journalist to get another look. Is this politics or justice?

By Correspondent / June 25, 2009

MOSCOW – Russia's Supreme Court on Thursday quashed the acquittals of four men accused of being accomplices in the 2006 murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, and ordered a full retrial in what has become the country's most notorious criminal case.

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But friends and colleagues of the slain journalist say they are not heartened by the court's decision, which cited major irregularities in the February jury verdict that set the suspects free . Some Russians say it's just the latest evidence of the official ineptness – some say malfeasance – that may have doomed the case to remain unsolved from the very beginning.

"The Supreme Court has made a political decision, possibly on orders from higher structures," says Nadezhda Prusenkova, press spokesperson for Novaya Gazeta, the crusading opposition weekly the Ms. Politkovskaya wrote for. "The whole process was politicized, and we continue to believe that the people who should have found themselves accused are of a higher rank (than the four suspects who were eventually brought to trial, then acquitted)," she adds.

Two Chechen brothers, Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, and a former police officer, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, were tried on murder charges – although none was accused of being the actual trigger man. A fourth suspect, former officer of the FSB security service Pavel Ryaguzov, was alleged to have "abused his position" by providing the killers with Politkovskaya's address and other information used to locate and target her.

Who's the mastermind?

Novaya Gazeta, which conducted its own parallel investigation into the killing, concluded that the four were probably involved, but they were acting together with a wider group that has evaded arrest and were acting on orders from a "mastermind" who has never been identified.

Some in Russia's increasingly beleaguered journalistic community argue that the Supreme Court-mandated retrial is just part of an official effort to drag the Politkovskaya case out without conclusion, until the world wearies of it.

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