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The Interpreter
Russian-to-English translation journal, with original analysis and commentary on Russia's foreign & domestic policy.
Suspected Organizer of Nemtsov Murder Mukhudinov Illegally Fled Russia, Says Investigative Committee
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The driver of a Chechen Interior Ministry troops officer alleged to have organized the murder of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has illegally fled Russia on someone else's passport, a Russian federal investigator said today, TASS reports.

An investigator from the Investigative Committee, who was not named, announced in the Basmanny Court that according to available files, Ruslan Mukhudinov, a driver for the Sever [North Battalion] of Chechnya's branch of the Interior Ministry troops, was in hiding abroad.

The announcement by the unnamed investigator is the first such public announcement from an official in the Nemtsov case since March. All other news reports, whether in the official or independent press, have been based on anonymous leaks by "persons close to the investigation" or "people in law-enforcement" and have sometimes been wrong or contradictory. 

The officer said Mukhudinov was in the United Arab Emirates, to which other Chechen fugitives have fled in the past, where Chechen President Ramzan Kadyrov has good ties. He said:

"Mukhudinov's guilt is confirmed by the confessions of the accused, and also other materials of the case."

The five defendants currently under custody have all renounced their testimony, which they said was given under torture. Efforts by human rights advocates to document and publicize the torture ended with threats to both them and journalists who covered their stories that they themselves could be arrested for "divulging the secrets of the investigation" under Russian law.

The officer said in court that Mukhudinov may have "used someone else's passport" as distinct from a forged passport and would likely remain abroad permanently.

The Basmanny Court reviewed the question of declaring Mukhudinov's arrest in absentia. If captured, Mukhudinov could face from 8 to 20 years of imprisonment, the investigator said, and urged that the court order his arrest rather than any "softer" measure. The court obliged by ruling that Mukhudinov was arrested in absentia on charges of premeditated murder and illegal arms possession (Art. 105-2 and Art. 222-3 of the Russian Criminal Code) -- nine months after the murder, and four months after the independent media identified him as stalking Nemtsov.

Interfax reported November 16 that Mukhudinov was finally placed on the federal and international wanted lists -- four months after investigators leaked to the independent wire service that he was spotted on a surveillance tape trailing Nemtsov outside a restaurant on Red Square, as we reported at the time.

The investigation has now extended its deadline to February 28, 2016, exactly one year from the date of the murder, February 27, 2015, said TASS, but then contradicted itself at the end of the article, saying it was extended until November 28, 2015. 

Mukhudinov's lawyer objected that the court had no proof of Mukhudinov's involvement in the murder, and stressed that testimony so far came under torture. He was the driver for Ruslan Geremeyev, the commander of the chief suspect in the perpetration of the murder, Zaur Dadayev, a Sever officer who went on leave for a month from the forces and went to Moscow, where he is claimed to have left a lot of evidence of his relationship to the murder. He was also seen on airport cameras together with Geremeyev right before the murder. 

Nemtsov's friends and supporters naturally wonder why it took so long to get to Mukhudinov, after he had long fled the country, if his name was mentioned early in the investigation and there was even evidence from surveillance cameras on Red Square of his trailing Nemtsov. Members of the Investigative Committee who tried to travel to Chechnya and interrogate suspects were repeatedly rebuffed by Kadyrov, who takes great pride in his republic's Interior Ministry troops, which were described by Nemtsov himself and other critics as his "personal army" and who have been deployed in the war in Ukraine and against terrorist suspects and other enemies of Kadyrov in Chechnya.

Nevertheless, Vadim Prokhorov, Nemtsov's lawyer, said "We're glad that at last it has been resolved and we hope in the future there will be an analogous charge filed against his childhood friend Ruslan Geremeyev.

As we reported a month after the murder, Geremeyev, Dadayev's direct superior in the Sever Battalion knew Mukhutdinov since childhood. A month after the murder,, an independent business daily, reported that Dadayev had hid out in the apartment of a relative of Ruslan Geremeyev's on Veyernaya Street and later at Kozino, a village in Moscow District.

But the Russian justice system has take months to act on this information, changing the chief investigator in the case, facing obstruction from Kadyrov, and other unknown problems. 

Further hearings in the case are expected November 24 and 25.

-- Catherine A. Fitzpatrick