Russian court finds five men guilty of Putin critic’s murder

Boris Nemtsov was shot dead by Chechen gunman on bridge near the Moscow Kremlin

Zaur Dadayev, charged with masterminding and carrying out the assassination of politician Boris Nemtsov, is escorted by police officers during a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court. Photograph:  Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images

Zaur Dadayev, charged with masterminding and carrying out the assassination of politician Boris Nemtsov, is escorted by police officers during a hearing at the Moscow District Military Court. Photograph: Vasily Maximov/AFP/Getty Images

 

A court in Moscow found five men guilty of involvement in the murder of Boris Nemtsov, a prominent Russian opposition leader, on Thursday at the end of a politically charged trial.

A former Russian deputy prime minister who became an outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, Mr Nemtsov was shot dead late on the evening of February 27th, 2015, as he walked home across a bridge near the Moscow Kremlin with his girlfriend after dining in a fancy restaurant.

A jury in a Moscow district military court declared five suspects, all of Chechen origin, guilty of planning and executing the hit on Thursday after three days of deliberations. All five men had pleaded innocent to the charges.

Zaur Dadayev, a former member of the elite Sever military unit in Chechnya, shot Mr Nemtsov dead on the Moskvoretsky bridge near the Kremlin before escaping in a getaway car.

Four other defendants including the brothers Anzor Gubashev and Shagid Gubashev, Ramzan Bakhayev and Tamerlan Eskerkhanov acted as accomplices in the crime following Mr Nemtsov around Moscow before choosing the moment and the place to strike.

None of the defendants deserved leniency, the jury said.

Experienced activist

Mr Nemtsov’s killers had been promised a 15 million roubles (€220,000) reward for executing the crime. Yet investigators have not identified the people who ordered and paid for the murder that robbed the Russian opposition of one of its most dedicated and experienced activists.

The family and friends of the slain politician have called for Ramzan Kadyrov, the powerful leader of Chechnya, to be questioned, but he has denied allegations of involvement in the case and never appeared in court.

Supporters of Mr Nemtsov welcomed the verdict on Thursday, but said the case should not be closed until investigators brought the people who contracted the killing to justice.

“It’s the biggest crime of the century and yet they haven’t identified the real organisers or those who ordered it,” Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for Zhanna Nemtsova, the slain politician’s daughter, told reporters outside the court house.

A reformist and charismatic politician, Mr Nemtsov was once seen as a possible successor by Russian president Boris Yeltsin under whom he served during the 1990s. But after Mr Putin came to power he joined the opposition, becoming one of the most vocal critics of Kremlin policies.

Step up pressure

At the time of his death he was preparing to publish a report examining the role of the Russian military in a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Ilya Yashin, a Russian opposition activist and former protegee of Nemtsov, pledged to step up pressure on Mr Putin to bring those who ordered the murder of his friend to justice.

“If those who ordered the crime are not called to account, political killings will continue in Russia, ” he wrote on Facebook on Thursday.

Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin’s spokesman, said it was up to investigators to decide whether further examination of the case was required.

Speaking earlier in the week before the verdict was announced, Mr Peskov warned that it could take “many years” to identify the masterminds in such a complicated murder case.