MOSCOW —Six years after the death of crusading Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, a former senior police officer was found guilty in Moscow City Court on Friday for his role in the slaying and was sentenced to 11 years in prison in a trial that left many questions unanswered and the journalist’s family and lawyers bitterly dissatisfied.
Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, formerly a police lieutenant colonel and head of the Moscow police surveillance department, was found guilty of ordering subordinates to trail Politkovskaya, providing information to hit men from the northern Caucasus and procuring a hand gun with a silencer for the attack. He was also ordered to pay her family about $100,000 in damages.
Politkovskaya, 48, a New York City-born investigative reporter with Novaya Gazeta known for her scathing attacks on President Vladimir Putin, Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and other high-level officials, was shot in the head and chest in the elevator of her apartment house in downtown Moscow on Oct. 7, 2006.
Judge Alexander Zamashnyuk said in the verdict that Pavlyuchenkov’s “actions were premeditated and paid for.”
“For surveillance purposes he involved his subordinates [who were] unaware of the criminal design,” Zamashnyuk said. At least five police officers tracked Politkovskaya’s movements prior to the killing. “He paid them $100-$150 a day and they used the department’s cars for that.”
Pavlyuchenkov acknowledged being paid $150,000 for his role.
The case was heard separately from the main trial expected to take place in March after Pavlyuchenkov struck a deal with prosecutors, acknowledging his guilt and providing details of the crime’s organization.
In a jury trial in 2009, two Chechen brothers, Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov, were found not guilty of murder for lack of conclusive evidence. Pavlyuchenkov testified for the prosecution in that case.
The brothers – along with a third brother, Rustam, who went into hiding in 2009 to avoid prosecution – now face charges again along with another former police officer, Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, and Chechen gangster Lom-Ali Gaitukayev, both serving prison terms for unrelated crimes.
[For the record, 10:25 a.m. Dec. 14: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that three brothers - Rustam, Ibragim and Dzhabrail Makhmudov - faced trial in 2009 on charges related to the death of Anna Politkovskaya. Rustam was charged in 2009 but went into hiding, avoiding trial.]
Speaking to a crowded courtroom, Pavlyuchenkov apologized to the slain journalist’s family. “Please forgive me as much as possible,” he said.
Pavlyuchenkov said that he was acting out of fear that Gaitukayev, whom he identified as the organizer of the attack on Politkovskaya, otherwise would order him killed.
“I would like my example to be a lesson to people who come to work in the police so that they wouldn’t get into stupid and terrible situations like the one I got in,” Pavlyuchenkov said. “I was lucky to stay alive.”
Pavlyuchenkov will be eligible for parole as soon as six and a half years after incarceration.
The slain journalist’s son, Ilya Politkovsky, said Friday he had mixed feelings about the verdict. “On the one hand I am happy that at last one of the people who killed my mother will go to prison,” Politkovsky said in an interview. “On the other hand, I think the verdict is too soft and we will appeal it.”
Politkovsky said Pavlyuchenkov didn’t really fulfill the terms of the deal with investigators. While giving details about the triggerman and his accomplices, Pavlyuchenkov didn’t name the person or persons who ordered the crime.
At one point during the investigation, Pavlyuchenkov told authorities Gaitukayev had identified exiled Russian tycoon and Putin archenemy Boris Berezovsky and former Chechen resistance leader Ahmed Zakayev as possibly being behind the crime but provided no conclusive evidence, Politkovsky said, who added that he didn’t believe Berezovsky and Zakayev were involved.
A top journalist from his mother’s newspaper also expressed frustration with the direction of the investigation.
“The Kremlin seems to be content with the complicity of Berezovsky and Zakayev as the main version and they obviously don’t want the investigation to consider other options,” said Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor-in-chief of Novaya Gazeta, who heads the paper’s own journalistic investigation into the case.
“We have our own version of who could have ordered this crime," he said, "but I am afraid now that Pavlyuchenkov’s trial is over, the official investigation may never uncover the whole truth.”