Russian ex-policeman on trial for Politkovskaya murder

A former Russian police officer went on trial Wednesday on charges of involvement in the murder of crusading anti-Kremlin journalist Anna Politkovskaya but with investigators no closer to solving the mystery of who ordered the killing.

Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov has been charged with murder for being part of a criminal group that gunned down the 48-year-old Politkovskaya in her apartment building on October 7, 2006.

The trial at the Moscow City Court was partially closed to the public with the prosecution saying that some documents stamped "secret" could not be read out in public, the Interfax news agency said.

Prosecutors demanded a 12-year jail sentence for Pavlyuchenkov. In a fast track process after a plea bargain agreed between the accused and prosecutors, the verdict could be announced as early as Friday.

The fast track trial means that no witnesses will be called or evidence examined, sharply reducing the chance of the process throwing any further light on the killing.

Anna Stavitskya, lawyer for the defence, said she was objecting to the conditions of the trial and also demanded 10 million rubles ($325,000) in compensation from the accused.

Investigators believe the murder gang was formed on the orders of Chechen criminal boss Lom-Ali Gaitukayev -- but that he was in the pay of the ultimate mastermind of the murder, who has yet to be identified.

According to the investigation, Pavlyuchenkov’s role in the murder was to find out Politkovskaya’s location and identify her daily routine so the assassination could be carried out successfully.

He also obtained the pistol that was used to kill her. Investigators believed Gaitukayev paid Pavlyuchenkov $150,000 to pass on as a reward to the murder gang.

"Pavlyuchenkov tries to present himself as someone of little importance but he without doubt knows the mastermind (of the killing)," Politkovskaya’s son Ilya told a news conference on Tuesday.

"The judges will undoubtedly close the trial to the public but we are not going to accept that it is kept secret," he added.

Gaitukayev organised the criminal gang "on the orders of an individual whose identity has yet to be identified by the investigation," investigators have said.

Gaitukayev was arrested in 2007 in a separate case and is now serving a jail sentence for the attempted murder of a businessman.

Investigators have also charged three Chechen brothers -- Dzhabrail, Ibragim and Rustam Makhmudov -- and Sergei Khadzhikurbanov, another former police officer, with carrying out the murder as a group.

According to the investigation, it was Rustam Makhmudov who pulled the trigger on Politkovskaya.

Dzhabrail and Ibragim Makhmudov and Khadzhikurbanov have already been tried and acquitted over the affair. The supreme court then halted a retrial, sending the case back for more investigation.

Politkovskaya was sharply critical of President Vladimir Putin and his strongman policies in the volatile North Caucasus. The murder coincided with his birthday.

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