Investigator says Russian journalist’s killer is known, not who ordered hit

.MOSCOW (AP) – After a year and nearly a dozen arrests, the main mystery in the slaying of a Russian journalist strongly critical of the Kremlin remains unsolved – who ordered her killed, the chief investigator said in an interview published Monday.

Investigators know who pulled the trigger in the fatal shooting of Anna Politikovskaya at her Moscow apartment building, Petros Garibyan, a senior investigator in the Prosecutor General’s Office, told the newspaper she worked for, Novaya Gazeta.

“As for those who ordered it, we have interesting suggestions, let’s put it this way,” he was quoted as saying. But he would not reveal what, if anything, investigators know about who might have ordered the slaying.

Politkovskaya’s persistent reporting of atrocities by security forces against civilians in the restive Chechnya region angered the Kremlin, but won her international acclaim.

Her politically charged killing widened the rift between Russia and the West, deepening concern abroad over the Kremlin’s treatment of critics under President Vladimir Putin, while hardening his government’s depiction of Russia as a nation beset by foes.

Putin and his chief prosecutor have framed the killing as a plot to discredit Russia, saying the investigation will lead to a mastermind abroad. The editor of Novaya Gazeta, Dmitry Muratov, says the probe will point in the opposite direction, revealing deadly, deep-seated corruption in the security and law enforcement agencies that have gained prominence under Putin.

In late August, Prosecutor General Yuri Chaika announced that Politkovskaya’s killing was organized by a Moscow-based criminal group that specialized in contract killings and was led by an ethnic Chechen. He said 10 people had been arrested, including a handful of current or former law enforcement officers.

The Federal Security Service, or FSB – Russia’s main security agency and the chief successor to the Soviet KGB – later identified one of those arrested as FSB Lt. Col. Pavel Ryaguzov, and subsequent reports said he was suspected of giving Politkovskaya’s killers her address.

Alongside its interview with Garibyan, Novaya Gazeta published a story recounting the ordeal of Eduard Ponikarov, who claims he was beaten and tormented in 2002 by Ryaguzov and another suspect in Politkovskaya’s slaying. He said Ryaguzov tried to force him to become an informant.

Ponikarov took his accusations to the Prosecutor General’s Office, the FSB and the Interior Ministry, but no one was prosecuted, Novaya Gazeta said in an article meant to underscore the idea that Russia is plagued by rampant unpunished crime carried out by security forces.

“He appealed to all possible authorities, and nobody reacted,” the newspaper said. “If these two had been jailed in 2002, Anna Politkovskaya might still be alive.”

Russian authorities have not sought to hide the alleged involvement of police officers in the reporter’s killing, but they have repeatedly suggested the person behind it was outside the country.

Chaika said in August the investigation showed the slaying of Politkovskaya could only have been ordered by someone living outside Russia with the aim of discrediting Putin.

He offered no evidence to support the claim, which echoed Putin’s own remarks shortly after the killing – wording that has been interpreted as alluding to Boris Berezovsky, a former Kremlin insider who lives in London and is a fierce Putin critic.

Colleagues of Politkovskaya say they doubt Chaika’s claim and fear the Kremlin may name a suspected mastermind to suit its political interests. Igor Yakovenko, head of the Russian Journalists’ Union, told Ekho Moskvy radio he does not believe those really behind the killing will ever be named by the authorities.