No reasons were cited for the dismissal of Akhmetkhanov, a Tatar who had spent his entire career in Kazan before being named Karachayevo-Cherkessia interior minister exactly three years ago by then-Russian President Dmitry Medvedev. A second regional interior minister whom Putin also fired on June 3, Pavel Gorchakov (Archangelsk Oblast), was also a Medvedev appointee.
The Karachayevo-Cherkessia Interior Ministry has come under scrutiny in recent months due to the high-profile trial of former Cherkessk deputy police chief Ruslan Rakhayev on charges of beating Dakhir Djankezov to death in October 2011. Djankezov had been taken into custody for being drunk. Rakhayev denies using violence on Djankezov. He says the injuries from which Djankezov died were inflicted hours before the man was brought to his office and that the case against him was fabricated.
Rakhayev, 33, is a Balkar. (The Balkars and the Karachais, the largest ethnic group in Karachayevo-Cherkessia, are ethnic cousins.) He began his career with the police in neighboring Kabardino-Balkaria, where he was awarded for his role in deflecting the multiple attacks by Islamic insurgents on police and security facilities in Nalchik in October 2005.
Rakhayev was named deputy Cherkessk police chief in September 2011 and says he immediately incurred the hostility of some of his subordinates by demanding they adopt a more conscientious approach to their duties. He says those demands led to a conflict with the officers on whose testimony the charge against him is based.
It is a measure of the general level of professionalism among Karachayevo-Cherkessia Interior Ministry personnel that Akhmetkhanov was the only officer to receive a satisfactory grade during an assessment in the spring of 2011.
Djankezov, a suspect in multiple burglaries, was detained late on October 6, 2011. In the early hours of the following morning, he was examined in the drugs unit by medical personnel who established he was under the influence of alcohol and drugs. But one of those doctors subsequently testified that, at that juncture, his body bore no marks of beating.
Djankezov was then taken back to a local police station to sober up and brought to the Cherkessk police department at 9:30 a.m. Video of him at around 10:45 a.m. shows bruises and dried blood on his face. Djankezov was taken to Rakhayev’s office only after midday. Witnesses for the prosecution say they left Djankezov alone in Rakhayev’s office for 40 minutes, during which time Rakhayev beat him brutally, breaking 10 of his ribs. Djankezov was found dead in a cell an hour later.
Rakhayev, for his part, denies ever being alone with Djankezov and says he made six telephone calls during the short time Djankezov and the officers escorting him were in his office. He says when Djankezov was brought to his office at 12:30 p.m., his face was bruised, there was swelling around his left eye, and he stank of ammonia. When Rakhayev asked about the swelling, one of the officers escorting Djankezov said he had got into a fight the previous night with one of the men he had been drinking with.
No traces of blood were found during a subsequent search of Rakhayev’s office.
The initial postmortem showed that the injuries Djankezov sustained were inflicted no later than four to six hours before his death, i.e. hours before he was taken to Rakhayev’s office. But in court, other medical experts queried the accuracy of those findings.
When Rakhayev was accused of Djankezov’s killing he fled back to Kabardino-Balkaria, where the FSB tracked him down in late February 2012. It is not clear whether there is any connection between Rakhayev’s trial and Akhmetkhanov’s dismissal.