Russia's Investigative Committee reportedly plans to issue an international arrest warrant for former wrestling champion Sagid Murtazaliyev, who currently heads the Daghestan subsidiary of the Federal Pension Fund. Murtazaliyev is suspected, together with Andrei Vinogradov, the head of Daghestan's northernmost Kizlyar district, and businessman Omar Asadulayev, of two murders, one attempted murder, and financing terrorism.
On July 27, Murtazaliyev's dacha on the outskirts of Makhachkala was cordoned off by security personnel in armored vehicles and searched. Earlier the same day, federal security personnel detained Vinogradov after a search of his home reportedly yielded quantities of unregistered weapons and drugs. Vinogradov, whom the daily Kommersant identifies as Murtazaliyev's brother-in-law, was transported by helicopter to the federal Interior Ministry regional base at Mozdok for interrogation.
Murtazaliyev, who is reportedly in Dubai recuperating from surgery, is quoted as describing the searches as undertaken for political reasons. He declined to comment further.
Murtazaliyev, 41, is one of Daghestan's most colorful and influential political figures. Born in Makhachkala, he trained from an early age as a freestyle wrestler. He won the 1999 World Championships in Ankara and a gold medal at the Summer Olympics in Sydney in 2000.
On his retirement from wrestling, Murtazaliyev entered local politics. He was elected to the republican parliament in March 2003 and as head of the Kizlyar municipality in March 2007. Magomedsalam Magomedov, at that time Republic of Daghestan president, appointed Murtazaliyev as head of the Daghestan office of the Pension Fund in March 2010. That regional office was designated the best in the North Caucasus in 2013.
Murtazaliyev has come to be regarded as one of the republic's political heavyweights, not least thanks to his close relations with Moscow-based oligarch Suleiman Kerimov and with Chechen Republic head Ramzan Kadyrov. At the same time, the Pension Fund office in Daghestan has made headlines on several occasions. In late September 2013, it was searched and documents confiscated, giving rise to rumors of embezzlement of maternity benefits. Less than a year later, it was reported that up to 100 Pension Fund staffers had been pressured to resign "voluntarily." That figure was subsequently revised downward to eight.
Meanwhile, Murtazaliyev was a key witness for the prosecution in former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov's trial last year on a charge of plotting an act of terrorism. Amirov, together with his nephew Yusup Dzhaparov, was found guilty of having co-opted Magomed Abdulgalimov to obtain a ground-to-air missile with the aim of shooting down a plane in which Murtazaliyev would be traveling. The motive imputed by the prosecution to Amirov, who categorically rejected it as unfounded and preposterous, was that Amirov regarded Murtazaliyev as a political rival.
In recent months, however, there have been reports that Murtazaliyev is a possible candidate for the post of Makhachkala mayor in the elections due in September.
Observers initially suggested that the homes of Vinogradov and Murtazaliyev may have been searched in connection with an incident in March 2012 in which five men were killed in a shoot-out in Kizlyar in which Vinogradov's bodyguards were implicated. The bodyguards stood trial but were acquitted. It is not clear, however, whether and how Murtazaliyev was involved.
Analyst Konstantin Kazyonin for his part suggested that either Republic of Daghestan head Ramazan Abdulatipov wanted to sideline Murtazaliyev in the run-up to next month's municipal elections or that Moscow might be planning to use Murtazaliyev as a means of compromising and weakening his patrons (meaning Kadyrov and Kerimov).
The charge of financing terrorism that the Investigative Committee plans to bring against Murtazaliyev almost certainly relates to the widespread and well-documented practice of "zakiyat," whereby the North Caucasus insurgency funds its activities from the proceeds of blackmailing both local businessmen and officials.