The jury trial of three men charged with the 2004 murder of Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic Deputy Prime Minister Ansar Tebuyev has ended with the acquittal of two of the defendants and the conviction of the third, on whose reportedly inconsistent and contradictory testimony the case was largely based.
The allegations that all three of the accused were subjected by investigators to beatings, psychological pressure, and electric-shock treatments to compel them to incriminate themselves and others are depressingly reminiscent of a second high-profile case currently being heard by the same court: that of former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov.
Tebuyev, a childhood friend of then-Karachayevo-Cherkessia Republic President Mustafa Batdyyev, was killed on October 18, 2004, in a drive-by shooting on his way to work.
On August 19, the North Caucasus Military District Court in the southern Russian city of Rostov-on-Don sentenced an ethnic Karachai former police officer, Artur Tambiyev, to 17 years in a prison camp for his role in the killing.
Tambiyev claimed to have an alibi for the shooting, as did his two co-defendants, Atam Achmiz, 40, an ethnic Circassian from the Republic of Adygheya, and Oleg Vanchenko, an ethnic Ukrainian from the neighboring Krasnodar Krai.
The court failed to establish the identity of the shooter, having rejected as evidence video footage in which the putative killer was named. The prosecution had identified Achmiz, who was jailed for 4 1/2 years in 2009 on a charge of providing a firearm to a member of the North Caucasus insurgency, as having fired the shots that killed Tebuyev. (Vanchenko is said to have driven the car, and Tambiyev to have given street directions.) The jury, however, was apparently convinced by Achmiz’s argument that he is right-handed, whereas ballistic expertise had indicated that the killer was left-handed.
From the outset, official information about who killed Tebuyev and why was fragmentary and contradictory. A few days after the murder, a senior federal Interior Ministry official announced that police had compiled from eyewitness reports an identikit picture of the shooter, who was said to be of Slavic appearance and aged between 15 and 17.
In September 2005, Batdyyev announced that the murder had been solved. He said two suspects had been apprehended, a third killed, and a search was under way for two more, but did not name any of them.
The two men apprehended were subsequently identified as Marat Chotchayev, 20, a Karachai student, and Marat Albotov, 29. They were tried and found guilty in late 2005 of having stolen in Nevinnomyssk (in Stavropol Krai) in late September 2004 the car used in Tebuyev’s murder. They were not, however, charged with killing him. Tambiyev was arrested in 2006, brought to trial, and jailed for six years for his role in the theft of the car. But he too was not implicated in the actual killing.
There were no further developments in the case until late May 2013, when the arrest of a suspect was announced. Reports differed, however, as to the date and location of the detention and the identity of the man in question.
The Investigative Committee announced that as a result of lengthy investigations, a resident of Karachayevo-Cherkessia’s Malokarachayevsk district was apprehended on May 30 in Cherkessk. The man in question was said to have served a prison term for the theft of the car used in Tebuyev’s murder and to have confessed to the actual killing and named the organizer and other perpetrators.
The Karachayevo-CherkessiaInterior Ministry, for its part, said the suspect was apprehended on May 29 in Sochi. It gave his age as 33, and his place of residence as Rimgorskoye in Malokarachayevsk district -- Chotchayev’s home village.
That characterization led several journalists to identify the suspect as Chotchayev. But Chotchayev was never formally charged, and there has been no further mention of him in connection with the killing.
The daily Kommersant identifies the man apprehended in Sochi as Tambiyev, who is also a native of Malokarachayevsk district, and says it was he who fingered Achmiz and Vanchenko.
Achmiz’s lawyer, Vyacheslav Merzakulov, likewise said Achmiz was incriminated by Tambiyev, and that the entire case against Achmiz was based on Tambiyev’s inconsistent testimony.
Within weeks of the suspect’s arrest , Achmiz was taken from the camp where he was serving his term to Cherkessk, where he claims he was repeatedly tortured and subjected to electric shocks to induce him to confess to killing Tebuyev and to incriminate people, including Vanchenko, whom he had never met.
Achmiz finally confessed under duress to the murder of Tebuyev, but publicly retracted that testimony in court last month.
Vanchenko, who was arrested in early July 2013, was likewise held in solitary confinement in Cherkessk and subjected to electric shocks until he confessed.
Whether or not Tambiyev was the man apprehended in late May, by late 2013 he had confessed to Tebuyev’s murder under a plea bargain. But shortly after his trial began in February 2014, he retracted that confession.
More than a year later, Tambiyev, Achmiz, and Vanchenko went on trial on charges relating to Tebuyev’s murder, plus an additional charge of banditry based on their imputed membership in an armed gang headed by former deputy district police chief Islam Salpagarov (Tambiyev’s boss) that was active from 2003-2005 and that also included Salpagarov’s relative Marat Bostanov. (Salpagarov was killed in 2011.)
Working on the assumption that Salpagarov masterminded Tebuyev’s murder out of personal animosity, the prosecution claimed Tambiyev coopted Achmiz and Vanchenko to kill him for a promised payment of $5,000.
Vanchenko’s defense lawyer Olga Pazy quoted testimony given by Albotov under interrogation in 2006 corroborating that it was Salpagarov who orchestrated Tebuyev’s murder. Albotov reportedly said Bostanov told him that Tambiyev drove the car used in the killing, and that the shots were fired by a man named Nazim Kusheterov.
Albotov and Bostanov are both dead. Kusheterov was sentenced two years ago to 14 years’ imprisonment for his role in the murder in May 2010 of Fral Shebzukhov, an aide to Batdyyev’s successor as KChR president, Boris Ebzeyev.
Achmiz and Vanchenko, both of whom pleaded not guilty to all the charges against them, walked free from the courtroom late last month, having spent over two years in custody prior to and during their trial.
It seems odd that Salpagarov, a Karachai from a predominantly Karachai-populated district, should have co-opted men from other ethnic groups or regions, whose reliability was not proven, to perpetrate a high-profile killing.
Numerous questions remain about Tambiyev’s role, specifically whether new evidence surfaced linking him with Tebuyev’s death, and who induced him to incriminate his two co-defendants and why, but it is unlikely they will ever be answered.
And with Tambiyev behind bars, there is no longer any reason to investigate the persistent rumors linking Tebuyev’s murder and the disappearance and killing one week earlier of a parliamentarian and six prominent businessmen, for which Batdyyev’s then son-in-law Ali Kaitov was subsequently jailed for 17 years. Tebuyev is said to have personally questioned Kaitov about the disappearances just hours before he himself was killed.