The four men pleaded not guilty; they claimed they confessed to killing Shebzukhov during the pretrial investigation only under duress. Shebzukhov’s widow and his brother Murat, who was injured in the attack, plan to appeal the sentences as too lenient.
On May 12, 2010, three masked men armed with baseball bats and a pistol attacked Shebzukhov, who was an adviser to Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Boris Ebzeyev, outside the gate to his home in Cherkessk. One set about hitting him with a bat; when he tried to flee, a second assailant shot him in the back.
From the outset, the consensus was that the murder was politically motivated. According to reports that were unconfirmed at the time of the killing, just days earlier Ebzeyev had proposed Shebzukhov’s candidacy to the republican parliament as the new prime minister, but Karachai and Cherkess deputies alike had rejected it. In mid-April 2010, North Caucasus Federal District head Aleksandr Khloponin had ordered Ebzeyev to name a Cherkess as prime minister in place of Vladimir Kayshev, an ethnic Greek.
Ebzeyev, a Karachai, released a statement praising Shebzukhov’s professionalism, intelligence, and human decency. Ebzeyev said he personally was convinced the murder was political, but he did not confirm at that juncture that he had proposed him as prime minister.
The four men sentenced for Shebzukhov’s murder are Magomed Djubuyev, Alik Tatarkulov, Nazim Kusheterov, and Sultan Djankyozov. All are from Cherkessk, and all are Karachais. But it does not necessarily follow that the enmity between the republic’s Karachai majority (approximately 38 percent of the total population of 475,000) and Cherkess minority (11.3 percent) was the primary motive for the murder.
Djubuyev, Tatarkulov, and Kusheterov were apprehended in Cherkessk on March 1, 2012; the following day, Investigative Administration official Sergei Shuvayev said all three had already confessed. Djankyozov was arrested at an unspecified later date.
Djubuyev, 29, was described by investigators as the leader of a criminal group; he and Tatarkulov were identified as having carried out the attack on Shebzukhov, together with a third man, Tulparov. It is not clear from the published accounts of the trial which of the three fired the fatal shot. International arrest warrants have been issued for Tulparov and a man named Kopsergenov, who is said to have channeled 500,000 rubles ($16,294) from the unidentified person who commissioned the murder to the four men subsequently sentenced.
Kusheterov, who is wheelchair-bound, was named as the mastermind of the murder. Djankyozov was not implicated in the murder of Shebzukhov but found guilty on charges of banditry, illegal possession of arms, and the attempted murder of Nagornova.
According to the Shebzukhov family’s lawyer, Ruslan Shifadugov, the four men admitted receiving the 500,000 rubles from Kopsergenov to kill Shebzukhov, whom an unnamed senior republican official reportedly considered an impediment.
The trial of the four suspects began in Cherkessk in early October. Ebzeyev, who had been replaced as Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic president in March 2011 after serving just 2 1/2 years in that capacity, testified in December by video-link from Moscow, where he is currently a member of Russia’s Central Election Commission.
Ebzeyev confirmed that he had proposed Shebzukhov as prime minister; he said the parliament had approved his candidacy.
Representatives of the republic’s Cherkess minority expressed concern and disappointment that the trial failed to identify the person who commissioned Shebzukhov’s murder. Mukhammad Cherkesov, who heads the Adyghe Khase organization that seeks to defend the interests of the Cherkess, deplored what he termed a lack of political will on the part of the law enforcement agencies to apprehend and bring to trial the perpetrators of high-profile killings.
A man suspected of killing Aslan Zhukov, a young Cherkess politician, in March 2010, was acquitted last year. No one has been arrested for the murder in January 2009 of parliament deputy Islam Krymshamkhalov, an ethnic Karachai, or of several other Karachai parliamentarians gunned down in recent years.