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Tajikistan: Court Sentences Seven For Murder Of Minister Sanginov

  • Bruce Pannier

In Tajikistan, a military court has sentenced four men to death and another three to long prison terms for their roles in the murder of First Deputy Interior Minister Habib Sanginov. All seven, like Sanginov, were members of the United Tajik Opposition, which battled government forces for five years before a peace agreement in 1997 led to a power-sharing deal. Speculation at the time about why Sanginov had been killed ranged from an internal struggle within the UTO to a hit by drug lords to simple terrorism by forces opposed to peace. But as RFE/RL correspondent Bruce Pannier reports, the prosecution at the trial presented a much simpler -- and more sordid -- motive.

Prague, 28 March 2002 (RFE/RL) -- A military court in Tajikistan concluded a nearly one-year-long trial on 26 March, finding seven men guilty of killing First Deputy Interior Minister Habib Sanginov.

The court passed death sentences on Abdumajid Davlatov, Sayed Amir Karimov, Sayed Rezvonzade, and Nazar Davlatov, and sentenced Kiyomidin Mirzoyev, Nazarali Yormahmadov, and Navruzjon Murodov to prison terms of between 16 and 25 years for their roles in Sanginov's murder last April. The seven had been charged with terrorism, robbery, and possession of weapons and narcotics.

Sanginov was a former member of the United Tajik Opposition, or UTO. He had been appointed first deputy interior minister as part of a power-sharing deal reached under the 1997 Tajik Peace Accord, which ended a five-year civil war in the country.

Sanginov was ambushed as he left his home on 11 April 2001. His killers sprayed his car with automatic weapons, killing Sanginov, his driver, and two bodyguards.

At the time, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov said he believed Sanginov was killed as a "political provocation" aimed at destabilizing the country. Sanginov's boss, Interior Minister Khumdin Sharipov, said he thought the murder was motivated by Sanginov's anticrime campaign. (Sanginov was in charge of efforts to clean up Tajikistan's mountainous and largely lawless eastern regions, ruled by UTO field commanders and effectively outside government control.)

Evidence presented by the prosecution during the trial, however, attempted to prove that none of these theories was correct. The chief judge at the trial, Vais Fathuddinov, who sided with the prosecution in the case, summarized his verdict: "The killing of First Deputy Interior Minister Habib Sanginov was committed because he [Sanginov] did not pay back money for drugs he took, as was agreed between him and the others [the defendants]."

According to trial testimony, Sanginov received 60 kilograms of heroin from the defendants, who were also former UTO members, but did not pay them the $100,000 price he had agreed.

In addition, the man the court singled out as the chief instigator of the murder plot -- Sayed Rezvonzade -- had another motive to kill Sanginov. According to testimony, the seven men did not pay for the heroin after picking it up in Afghanistan. Instead, they left one of Rezvonzade's brothers with the Afghan drug dealers as collateral until they could return with the money promised by Sanginov.

Rezvonzade's brother has not been heard from since.

Rezvonzade's lawyer, however, said no clear link was established during the trial between the drugs and Sanginov's killing. Attorney Azam Abdurahmonov said no physical evidence concerning the heroin was introduced at the trial, so any link to the murder could not be proven.

"Article 200 [of the criminal code] was given as relevant in the verdict, but it is about drugs. We just heard about the heroin, but neither during the investigation nor the trial did we see any heroin. That is enough to appeal the verdict."

Abdurahmonov has until 3 April to formally appeal and introduce any new evidence he may have to clear his client.

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