By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, February 16, 2007
MOSCOW, Feb. 15 -- Two men accused of murdering American journalist Paul Klebnikov failed to show up in court Thursday, the first day of their retrial for the July 2004 killing.
"Today's hearing was postponed until March 14 because the two defendants did not appear in court," said Anna Usachyova, a spokeswoman for the Moscow City Court. "They were sent official notification that they had to appear, which they signed, but they did not appear."
The two suspects, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, were tried on the same charges last year and acquitted by a jury in May. The verdict was overturned by the Russian Supreme Court, which ordered a new trial before a new set of judges at the Moscow City Court. The two suspects, both Chechen, had been free since their acquittal.
It was unclear Thursday night whether police would seek to arrest the two, who are accused of carrying out the killing for Khozh-Akhmed Nukhayev, a Chechen separatist. Prosecutors allege that Nukhayev ordered the killing in response to a book Klebnikov wrote about him in 2003 titled "Conversations With a Barbarian."
Klebnikov, 41, the editor of Forbes Russia, was gunned down July 9, 2004, as he left the magazine's offices in central Moscow.
"We are just puzzled why the accused were not in custody," Michael Klebnikov, the journalist's brother, said in a telephone interview from the United States.
An arrest warrant has been issued for Nukhayev, but he remains at large. Russian officials describe him as a former mobster who fought Russian forces when war first broke out in Chechnya in the mid-1990s.
An attorney for a third defendant, who is being tried simultaneously on charges of hiring the two missing men to carry out another contract killing, told the court that Dukuzov was in Chechnya and Vakhayev was sick and unable to attend.
But outside the court, the lawyer, Ruslan Koblev, told reporters, "If they are sane, they will not appear in court, because they know very well that the state is not going to risk another acquittal."
Prosecutors and lawyers representing Klebnikov's family had appealed the not-guilty verdicts, successfully arguing that the trial was marred by numerous procedural violations. Russian law allows the Supreme Court to overturn jury verdicts if there have been violations.
President Vladimir Putin late last year praised the Supreme Court's decision to order a retrial.
Klebnikov, who was of Russian descent, was the first Western journalist to be assassinated in Russia. At least 13 Russian reporters have been killed here since 2000, most recently the internationally renowned investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in Moscow in October.
The original trial of the defendants in the Klebnikov killing was closed to the public because the court ruled that some of the evidence included classified material. Klebnikov's family has called for the new trial to be open, but reporters were again barred from the courtroom Thursday.
The U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists also called for an open trial and the sequestration of the jury.
"The first trial was riddled with procedural violations that were hidden from the public with closed-door proceedings and a gag order on all participants," Joel Simon, executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, said in a statement. "We call on Russian court officials to open the hearing to the public to ensure a fair trial."
The group, citing an unnamed source, alleged that former presiding judge Vladimir Usov and other court officials in the first trial had failed to stop the defendants or defense representatives from making threatening statements in court that could have affected the jury.