Three days after the spectacular detention
of Makhachkala Mayor Said Amirov, the precise reason for it remains unclear. Federal and local officials have given diverging explanations.
On the day of Amirov's detention, Russian Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said Amirov was suspected of involvement in the murder
in December 2011 in Kaspiisk of Investigative Committee official Arsen Gadzhibekov. But in a joint statement two days later, the Daghestani authorities characterized Amirov's arrest as part of Russian President Vladimir Putin's campaign to eradicate corruption
. Meanwhile, the Russian daily "Izvestia" reported without revealing its source that the case of Amirov and 10 of his associates has been entrusted to an investigator who specializes in terrorism
in the North Caucasus.
As of June 4, Amirov has been charged only with commissioning the murder
According to "Kommersant," Amirov reacted with outrage when Gadzhibekov had the temerity to question two municipal employees in the course of a routine corruption case. Amirov telephoned Gadzhibekov to warn him not to meddle. When Gadzhibekov nonetheless continued his line of inquiry, Amirov reportedly co-opted
first his nephew, Kaspiisk Deputy Mayor Yusup Dzhafarov, and then Magomed Abdulgalimov (aka Tractor Driver or Kolkhoznik), a former assistant to the Kaspiisk city prosecutor, to silence him. They too have been charged in connection with Gadzhibekov's murder.
Gadzhibekov was shot dead from a passing car
on his return to his Kaspiisk apartment late at night. That is a tactic frequently used by the insurgency, but investigators believe Gadzhibekov was in fact killed by members of an armed criminal group headed by Abdulgalimov and whose members included both insurgents and law enforcement personnel.
As one commentator on Amirov's arrest has pointed out
, it is becoming increasingly difficult to differentiate
between the fighters who constitute the military wing of insurgency; bandits engaged in extortion on behalf of, or in name of, the insurgency; and the armed formations subordinate to individual politicians
. Amirov is rumored
to have 700 armed men at his disposal.
Abdulgalimov was arrested in October 2012 on suspicion of having dealt in psychotropic drugs over a period of 10 years and is currently being held in pretrial detention in Pyatigorsk. Officials have denied
media reports that he tried to hang himself following Amirov's detention.
Other members of Abdulgalimov's group, which is believed responsible for a total of 10 murders, were apprehended
in the following months. It was on the basis of their pretrial testimony that the federal Investigative Committee dispatched a team of 25-30 investigators to Makhachkala in April to probe the suspected involvement
of Interior Ministry personnel in those killings. One arrested member of the group is reported to have incriminated
Investigative Committee head Aleskandr Bastrykin told a high-level anticorruption meeting in Moscow on June 4, however, that Amirov has been under investigation
for two years. That means the investigation must have started prior to Gadzhibekov's death, although Bastrykin did not divulge what triggered it.
Bastrykin's statement is at odds with the claim
by Amirov's lawyer, Mark Kruter, that the case against Amirov was fabricated because Ramazan Abdulatipov, whom President Putin named acting Republic of Daghestan president four months ago, felt "uncomfortable" with Amirov. A poll conducted over the past two months by the independent Daghestani paper "Chernovik
" found that in a direct election for republic head, Amirov would easily have defeated Abdulatipov. The paper's website has been subjected to repeated cyberattacks
since Amirov's arrest.
As for the timing of the operation to take Amirov into custody, security personnel say his movements were monitored for a period of two months beforehand. June 1 was selected because a soccer match in Grozny between Makhachkala's Anzhi and a Moscow team was scheduled for that afternoon. Most of Makhachkala's residents, including Amirov, were therefore glued to their TV screens and the city streets were deserted. That made it possible for the security squad from Moscow tasked with apprehending Amirov to cordon off his house and then simply ring the doorbell
Amirov's arrest is a landmark event not simply because of his status as the de facto second-most-powerful political figure in Daghestan. For the first time, senior Russian officials are openly addressing the hitherto taboo topic of complicity or even active cooperation between senior officials and the insurgency
. Asked in a recent interview
whether, like other
senior officials, he had received demands from the insurgency for cash, Amirov said no, because the insurgents would have known in advance he would have refused.
Russian security services nonetheless suspect a connection
between Amirov and senior insurgency commander Ibragim Gadzhidadayev, whose reported death in a shoot-out in April has never been confirmed
. Siradzhudin Guchuchaliyev, the commander of a Makhachkala-based insurgent group who was wounded and apprehended during a counterterror operation on the outskirts of Makhachkala on May 31, has reportedly provided details of Amirov's links with the insurgency
. Guchuchaliyev has been taken to Moscow, together with the other suspects detained along with Amirov.
Amirov's arrest, and the fact that his case has reportedly been assigned
to a terrorism expert, suggests that Moscow has finally woken up to the need to address the problem of complicity, and to balance its military offensive against the insurgency with more effective measures to demolish the logistical and financial support it receives from corrupt local officials.