Reporters Without Borders is delighted to learn that the Russian authorities yesterday arrested a retired Moscow police officer on suspicion of organizing the 2006 murder of Novaya Gazetareporter Anna Politkovskaya in return for money.
"This is a major step that is long overdue,” Reporters Without Borders said. "We are pleased that after four years of foot-dragging there now seems to be a real determination to press ahead with the investigation. Tribute must be paid to the persistence of Novaya Gazeta’s journalists, which has clearly played a role
"We must nonetheless continue to be very cautious about the subsequent course of the investigation. As it advances, the security services will be strongly tempted to restrict blame to a few people who have already been identified and to close the case as soon as possible. The committee in charge of the investigation must pursue the present course and go after the masterminds and their accomplices, whoever they may be.”
It was Novaya Gazeta deputy editor Sergei Sokolov who broke the news late last night that Lt.Col. Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov, a retired police officer, had been arrested by the team investigatingthe Politkovskaya murder.
According to investigators, Pavlyuchenkov hired the hit men who carried out the murder, obtained the gun used to shoot Politkovskaya, and arranged for Politkovskaya to be followed before she was killed. Pavlyuchenkov, who was still a police officer at the time, is now in police custody in Moscow. He is to be taken tomorrow before a judge, who is expected to order him place in pre-trial detention.
The spokesman for the investigative committee, Vladimir Markin, confirmed Pavlyuchenkov’s arrest and said he even had information about the supposed mastermind although "for the moment we think it would be premature to make this information public.”
When reached by Reporters Without Borders, Politkovski family lawyer Anna Stavitskaya pointed out that Pavlyuchenkov was the main witness during the first trial of several alleged accomplices, when he cleverly used his status as a police officer to cover up all the tracks.
"That is when we began suspecting his role in Anna’s murder,” Stavitskaya said. "For the time being, it is hard to say whether he received the order to organize the murder directly from the mastermind or via intermediaries. And it is too early to talk of transferring the case to the courts.”
The head of the Novaya Gazeta press service, Nadezhda Prusenkova told Reporters Without Borders that the newspaper has never ceased to investigate the Politkovskaya murder.
"In the Markelov and Baburova case we cooperated directly with the official investigation but in this case we carried out our own parallel investigation (...) We reached the conclusion that Pavlyuchenkov played a leading role in the murder, but it seems premature to say exactly what his role was.”
Prusenkova added: "The investigative committee has finally begun to do its job, something it should it have done four years ago, but it is too soon to say if this will lead to the arrest of the masterminds. There are still many obstacles, people in high places risk being implicated and we will have to be extremely careful that Pavlyuchenkov is not silenced (...) As time passes, the chances of solving this murder diminish. We remember how great hopes were raised by the first trial, only to be dashed subsequently.”