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Analysis: Belarusian Journalist Investigating Iraqi Arms Sales On Eve Of Slaying

Police believe a domestic dispute was behind Charkasava's slaying New information recently emerged about how Belarusian journalist Veranika Charkasava spent the last few months of her life: She was investigating alleged Belarusian arms shipments to Iraq. Despite this new information, Belarusian investigators continue to have only one suspect in her murder, her 15-year-old son Anton Filomonov. He fled to Moscow this month to avoid being detained in a closed psychiatric facility.

Last October, Charkasava was stabbed to death in her apartment. The police concluded a personal quarrel was the cause, while her colleagues suspected that she was killed because of her professional activities. A group on Belarusian independent journalists has been conducting its own investigation of her slaying, and they recently revealed that Charkasava spent the last month of her life researching Belarus's alleged weapons sales to the Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein, specifically Infobank's financing of military contracts with Iraq, RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 8 February.

In August 2004, the United States directly accused Infobank of trading weapons and froze its U.S. bank accounts. Pavel Sheremet, a journalist at ORT, told reporters in Moscow on 8 February that Charkasava had developed good sources at Infobank over the past couple of years and decided to conduct her own investigation. Charkasava had one source in particular who was filling her in on the "secrets of Belarusian-Iraqi cooperation," according to "Russkii kurer" on 2 February. Charkasava had gathered information about Infobank's alleged role in laundering money for weapons sales to Iraq. According to "Russkii kurer," all photos of a trip to Baghdad that Charkasava took two years ago at the invitation of Infobank disappeared from her apartment.

Police Focus

Despite the independent journalists' findings, the police continue to insist that a domestic dispute was behind Charkasava's slaying. Initially, their chief suspects were Charkasava's father and her son. Investigators have subsequently focused on the son.

On 31 January, Charkasava's mother, Diana Charkasava, sent a letter to Belarus's Prosecutor-General Pyotr Miklashevich, complaining about the toll the police investigation has taken on her family. She wrote: "For more than two months we have been living under these claims. We are not criminals -- we are victims. Our health is being undermined. It's bad enough that this child should lose his mother, now he is being destroyed morally."

Relatives say that the pressure of being a suspect and being questioned by police for periods as long as five hours straight caused Anton to have a nervous breakdown. According to Dziyana Charkasava, Anton, who lived with his grandparents before his mother's death, had no psychological problems before the murder, "Gazeta" reported on 7 February.
All photos of a trip to Baghdad that Charkasava took two years ago at the invitation of Infobank reportedly disappeared from her apartment.

The day after Charkasava's letter was sent, the investigators from the prosecutor's office showed up at Anton's school to take him for a psychiatric evaluation at a closed facility. Anton managed to call his grandparents, who quickly arrived at the school to defend their grandson, according to RFE/RL's Moscow bureau. Charkasava told "Gazeta" that one of the deputy prosecutors asked her if she "[wasn't] afraid to be in the same apartment as a murderer." After that incident, Anton's father, Dmitrii Filimonov, a journalist for "Izvestiya," had him whisked away to Moscow. His grandparents feared that at any moment investigators could try again to take him away, and according to "Russkii kurer," "no one doubts that the authorities have the necessary levers to obtain the 'needed' [psychiatric] diagnosis."

Safe In Moscow

Filimonov told "Izvestiya" on 9 February that he "is afraid that the Belarusian intelligence service may try to kidnap Anton in Moscow, but still he is safer [in Moscow] than in Minsk." He concluded that "if they had any real evidence against Anton, they would have arrested him long ago." According to Filimonov, investigators took all of Anton's clothes that were worn on the day of the killing and were unable to find any trace of blood. They also took his fingerprints, his computer, and other potential physical evidence.

According to Sheremet, the chief investigator in Charkasava's case, Uladzimir Chumachenka, also investigated the disappearance of his former colleague, ORT cameraman Dzmitry Zavadski, "Izvestiya" reported. Chumachenka suspected Zavadski's wife of organizing his disappearance and spent several months asking her insinuating questions. Eventually, four spetsnaz officers were arrested for abducting and killing Zavadski.

Of course, Zavadski had the advantage of working for a major Russian state television channel. Charkasava, on the other hand, worked for a series of independent publications -- most recently, the trade union newspaper "Solidarnost." Her family, therefore, must rely on Mr. Chumachenka and her colleagues for justice.

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