A Russian court has sentenced former Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov to life imprisonment on charges of terrorism and murder that his defense lawyers say are fabricated and without foundation.
Seven other men, including Amirov’s nephew Yusup Dzhaparov, received prison terms ranging from 9 1/2 to 22 years that in all but two cases were more lenient than those asked for by the prosecution.
All the accused pleaded not guilty to charges of terrorism, participating in an illegal armed formation and illegal possession of weapons during their trial at the North Caucasus Military District Court. Amirov’s co-defendants all claimed they had been subjected to beatings and/or torture to compel them to confess. The high-profile trial, which began in mid-May, raised numerous questions, not least about the legality, reliability, and consistency of the testimony by the main witness for the prosecution, Magomed Abdulgalimov (aka Kolkhoznik).
Abdulgalimov is a former assistant to the Khasavyurt city prosecutor who had testified in the trial last year of Amirov and Dzhaparov on a charge of seeking to assassinate a political rival. They were found guilty and sentenced to 10 and 8 1/2 years respectively.
Largely on the basis of Abdulgalimov’s testimony, investigators concluded that Amirov created an illegal criminal gang that was responsible for a mortar attack in April 2011 on a recreation and shopping center in the town of Kaspiisk, and the killing in December 2011 of investigator Arsen Gadzhibekov.
In both instances, however, witnesses for the defense demonstrated the holes in the prosecution’s case and the implausibility of the imputed motive.
The mortar attack, which was classified as an act of terrorism even though no one was injured, was said to have been plotted by Amirov and Dzhaparov in revenge for the thwarting by then Kaspiisk mayor Djamaludin Omarov of their ambition to secure Dzhaparov’s election to that post in the fall of 2010. (The recreation/shopping center in question was owned by Omarov’s son-in-law.)
But Adam Aliyev, who in 2010 was an aide to then Republic of Daghestan President Magomedsalam Magomedov, told the court that Dzhaparov was not a candidate for the post of Kaspiisk mayor, and dismissed his imputed mayoral ambitions as rumor.
Eduard Khidirov, who heads the Patriots of Russia faction in the Daghestan parliament, pointed out that the Kaspiisk mayor is indirectly elected by the city council, and that to the best of his knowledge Dzhaparov was not even a candidate in the municipal council elections.
Murad Aliyev, accused of firing the mortar round, produced a cast-iron alibi in the form of relatives who testified that he was in Moscow at a birthday party on the day of the attack.
Other witnesses said Dzhaparov too was in Moscow on the day of the mortar attack. The then director of the center, Bagand Abdullayev, blamed the incident on the North Caucasus insurgency. Abdullayev, who is related to Amirov and denied any ill-feeling between them, said that six months before the attack he had received a demand from the insurgency for cash.
Similarly, Amirov’s rationale for commissioning the assassination of Gadzhibekov was said to have been anger that the latter confiscated unspecified documentation during a search of the municipal offices in Makhachkala’s Sovetsky district. In a statement after the sentences on the eight accused were handed down on August 27, federal Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin likewise attributed Amirov’s imputed decision to have Gadzhibekov killed to his resentment of the latter’s investigations.
The defense, however, produced two witnesses who testified that Amirov, when informed of the search, ordered the relevant papers to be handed over immediately, and that he bore no grudge against Gadzhibekov.
Magomed Akhmedov and Magomed Kadiyev, the two men identified by investigators as having shot Gadzhibekov, bear little resemblance to eyewitnesses’ descriptions of the perpetrators.
Perhaps the most disquieting question is why the judge sentenced Amirov to life imprisonment, while Magomed Akhmedov, Abdulgalimov’s cousin, received only 22 years after being found guilty of Gadzhibekov’s murder. (The prosecution had asked for a life sentence for Akhmedov and Dzhaparov.)
Amirov is 61 and wheelchair-bound as a result of injuries sustained in an assassination attempt in 1993; he also suffers from diabetes and hepatitis. And as noted above, he is already serving a 10-year prison term for having allegedly plotted with Dzhaparov and Abdulgalimov to kill Sagid Murtazaliyev, head of the Daghestan subsidiary of the federal Pension Fund.
Even before this week’s verdict, Amirov’s chances of surviving until the end of his first prison term were not good. In June, he had expressed concern that he would not live until the end of the trial.
Many observers attributed Amirov’s high-profile arrest and two subsequent trials to what Nikolai Protsenko termed the federal center’s disinclination to tolerate any longer the “privatization of the state” in Daghestan of which Amirov is widely regarded as the epitome and primary beneficiary.
But the nature of the charges against him, and specifically the life sentence handed down this week, may also have been intended to set a precedent for future cases against senior Daghestani officials who, like Amirov, are perceived to have become either too powerful, or too independent of the republican leadership, or both.
If that was indeed the rationale for jailing Amirov for life, the two men most at risk of suffering the same fate are Murtazaliyev and his protégé, Kizlyar municipal district head Andrei Vinogradov. They are suspected of murder, attempted murder, and “financing terrorism,” meaning channeling funds to the North Caucasus insurgency.
Vinogradov was apprehended late last month in an operation that, like the detention of Amirov in June 2013, conforms to commentator Enver Kisriyev’s observation that “the more flamboyant the circumstances of the arrest, the more nebulous and unconvincing the evidence against the detainee."
Murtazaliyev’s current whereabouts are unknown.