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CIS: Rise In Contract Killings Not Unique To Russia

The son of the murdered Azerbaijani journalist Elmar Husseynov kisses his father's portrait (RFE/RL) PRAGUE, October 12, 2006 (RFE/RL) -- The slayings of two prominent businessmen and a high-profile journalist in Russia in recent weeks have marked a return to the use of contract killings to settle scores in the country. But the reemergence of this phenomenon is not unique to Russia. Throughout the CIS, the untimely deaths of journalists, politicians, and business people often bear the trademarks of assassination.

The deaths of prominent figures in CIS states are often accompanied by unusual circumstances and curious timing -- but some contract killings are easier to read than others. Some are obvious, as in cases in which the killers leave key forensic evidence behind to make it clear that a death was no random act. Others are less conspicuous, coming in the form of "accidents" or concealed as ordinary crimes.

Some of the recent deaths of high-profile figures in CIS states are listed below:


-- Tigran Naghdalian: Head of Armenia's television and radio broadcasting board, died December 28, 2002. Naghdalian, 36, was shot in the back of his head as he left his parents' apartment in central Yerevan. Naghdalian had previously worked as a stringer for RFE/RL's Armenian Service from 1994-97. The masterminds of Naghdalian's killing have never been identified.

-- Sedrak Zatikian: A senior leader of the Yerkrapah Union of Karabakh War Veterans, died June 22, 2006. Zatikian was killed in a drive-by shooting in Yerevan's Malatia-Sebastia district. Witnesses told RFE/RL that assailants fired numerous rounds at Zatikian's vehicle before escaping. Zatikian apparently died before his vehicle crashed into a heavy truck.

-- Aleksandr Givoev: Head of a children's rights NGO, died August 9, 2006. Givoev was gunned down in a drive-by shooting at a roadside market on a major highway after stopping en route to Gyumri. Givoev was known as a flamboyant character and had run unsuccessfully for parliament in May 2003. Identified in his campaign leaflets as the "Godfather of All Armenians," Givoev had earned a controversial reputation while working in Russia. In 2001, the Armenian newspaper "Iravunk" reprinted a Russian press report that listed him among Russia's leading crime figures of Caucasian descent. The businessman reacted furiously to the information, urging President Robert Kocharian to close the paper.

-- Shahen Hovasapian: Head of a State Taxation Service division tasked with combating tax fraud, died September 6, 2006. Hovasapian was found in a critical condition after his government-owned car exploded meters from his apartment building. An explosive device planted under the passenger seat in which Hovasapian was seated led police to believe that he had been specifically targeted. He died en route to hospital. Hovasapian was a relatively unknown figure who owned one of Armenia's two largest gas companies, Goshgaz.


-- Elmar Husseynov: Editor of the independent weekly "Monitor," died March 2, 2005. Husseynov was shot dead as he returned home from work. The official investigation revealed that the assailants disabled telephone and electricity lines to his apartment building prior to the killing. Some human rights activists described the killing as a warning to those critical of the regime. The "Monitor" ceased publication following Husseynov's death. The criminal investigation continues and no arrests have been made.


-- Ryszard Badon-Lehr: Polish diplomat, died March 2006. Badon-Lehr was found unconscious in his apartment in Hrodna, where he served as Polish vice-consul, on March 22, 2006. He spent three days in a hospital in Hrodna, after which time he was transferred to a hospital in Bialystok, Poland. He died there without ever having regained consciousness. Belarusian opposition leader Alyaksandr Milinkevich in March gave an interview with the Polish newspaper "Rzeczpospolita" in which he accused Belarusian authorities of involvement in Badon-Lehr's death.


Altynbek Sarsenbaev at the funeral of Zamanbek Nurqadilov in December 2005 (RFE/RL)

-- Askhat Sharipzhan: An independent journalist, died July 20, 2004. Sharipzhan's death was officially attributed to a traffic accident. However, his position as a political analyst for the online publication "Navi" and his activities in the days leading up to his death have led some NGOs and Kazakh politicians to conclude that Sharipzhan was killed. Sharipzhan had conducted interviews with two prominent opposition leaders on the day he died, and the recordings of those interviews and the keys to his office were never found. The opposition figures Sharipzhan interviewed -- Zamanbek Nurqadilov and Altynbek Sarsenbaev -- later died in separate incidents.

-- Zamanbek Nurqadilov: A former emergency situations minister and mayor of Almaty, died November 11, 2005. Nurqadilov's body was discovered in his home with two gunshot wounds to the chest and one to the head. The official conclusion was death by suicide, but his emergence as an outspoken critic of President Nursultan Nazarbaev and ties to Sharipzhan's last interview led some Kazakh politicians and NGOs to consider his death a political assassination.

-- Altynbek Sarsenbaev: Co-chairman of the opposition True Aq Zhol party, died February 13, 2006. Sarsenbaev, his driver, and his bodyguard were slain execution-style, with their hands tied behind their backs. The official conclusion was that Sarsenbaev was killed as the result of a personal dispute with a Kazakh official, who employed officers of the elite military group of the National Security Committee to carry out the killing. However, relatives and Kazakh opposition groups maintain that the former information minister and ambassador to Russia was killed for political reasons.

-- Batyrkhan Darimbet: Editor in chief of the weekly "Azat" and member of the opposition Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan's political council, died June 2, 2005. Darimbet officially died in a traffic accident. However, Darimbet's relatives, colleagues, and fellow opposition members consider his death a contract killing. A year prior to his death he had spoken of political pressure being applied to members of the Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan after it was registered to run in the country's parliamentary elections in October 2005.

-- Erzhan Tatishev: Head of Kazakhstan's largest bank, TuranAlemBank, died December 19, 2004. Tatishev officially died as the result of a hunting accident, but his position and the circumstances of his death led some Kazakh politicians to determine it was a premeditated assassination.


Scene from the shooting of Zhirgalbek Surabaldiev (left, RFE/RL)

-- Jyrgalbek Surabaldiev: Parliamentarian, died June 10, 2005. Surabaldiev, who was slain in central Bishkek, was allegedly linked to illicit businesses and was among lawmakers loyal to the ousted president, Askar Akaev. His supporters were accused of attacking opposition protestors in the hours before Akaev fled the country on March 24, 2005. National Security Service head Tashtemir Aitbaev has said that Surabaldiev's death was not politically motivated, but was related to his car dealership.

-- Baiaman Erkinbaev: Parliamentarian, died September 21, 2005. Erkinbaev, who was killed as he returned to his home in Bishkek, was a supporter of the "Tulip" revolution. National Security Service head Tashtemir Aitbaev told Kyrgyzstan's parliament shortly after the killing that an investigation revealed that Erkinbaev was shot dead after he refused to deliver drugs to a prison. The investigation into his slaying is continuing.

-- Tynychbek Akmatbaev: Politician, died October 20, 2005. Akmatbaev was killed while visiting a penitentiary near Bishkek to help quell a prison riot. Some prisoners were found guilty of his murder by a Kyrgyz court. Tynychbek was the younger brother of reputed criminal figure Rysbek Akmatbayev, who was killed by unknown gunmen on May 10, 2006 as he left a mosque in Bishkek. Rysbek's killers remain at large.

Tatarstan, Russia

-- Rafis Saitov: Head of Tatarstan's Egerze district, died August 30, 2002. Saitov was found shot dead near his home. A court ruled that his murder was ordered by his predecessor, Rinat Zakirov, and carried out by contract killers. Zakirov was sentenced to 17 years in prison.

-- Viktor Faber: Head of KamAZ Metallurgy, a branch of the KamAZ truckmaker, disappeared on May 27, 2003. His kidnappers asked for a ransom, which was paid prior to the discovery of Faber's body in September 2003. Andrei Kozlov, Russia's top anti-money-laundering official who was himself assassinated on September 13, 2006, had in 2004 accused a Russian bank of accepting the ransom money. A trial centering on the role of a well-known criminal grouping known as the "Tagiryanovskiye" is currently under way.


-- Ogulsapar Muradova: activist and RFE/RL correspondent died in the custody of the Turkmen government on or before September 14, 2006. The circumstances of her death remain unclear. Rights activists have accused the authorities of torture and ill-treatment. The Turkmen Helsinki Foundation described Muradova's death as a "political assassination."

-- Geday Akhmedov: governor of the Lebap Province died in July 2006 in jail, apparently of a heart attack. A once-favored provincial governor, Akhmedov was dismissed and sentenced for 17 years for corruption, nepotism, and abuse of power.


-- Volodymyr Karachevtsev: the head of the independent journalists' union Melitopol and deputy editor in chief of the independent "Kuryer" newspaper was killed on December 14, 2003. Karachevtsev's body was found hanging from the handle of a refrigerator. He had often written about corruption among local officials. Despite evidence to the contrary, the verdict was suicide.

-- Heorhiy Kirpa and Yuriy Kravchenko: two key ministers in President Leonid Kuchma's administration were found dead at the end of 2004 and the beginning of 2005. Media and officials have repeatedly questioned the official verdict of suicide.

-- Stepan Senchuk: the former head of the Lviv regional public administration and the head of the Ecolan supervisory board was shot dead on November 29, 2005. Media reports speculated that Senchuk was killed because of his business activities.

-- Hryhoriy Potylchak: a Nyzhyn city council deputy was shot dead on the night of June 7-8, 2006. Potylchak headed a commission that investigated the activities of the local authorities.

(Contributions from RFE/RL's Armenian Service, Azerbaijani Service, Belarus Service, Kazakh Service, Romania-Moldova Service, Tatar-Bashkir Service, and Ukrainian Service)