Guilty Verdict on the Kozlov Murder Trial, Questions Remain

frenkel102808.jpgRIA Novosti and TASS are both reporting that a jury at the Moscow City Court has reached a guilty verdict for the former businessman and banker Alexei Frenkel, who stands accused of organizing the murder of central banker and money laundering crusader Andrei Kozlov. Kozlov was gunned down on Sept. 13, 2006 on his way home from a soccer match. He had earlier initiated money laundering investigations into Frenkel’s group, VIP Bank, and eventually suspended their operating license. Prosecutors are arguing that Frenkel organized the hit for $300,000 as “revenge” for Kozlov having put him out of business. Despite my complete lack of faith in the Russian judicial system and the investigative abilities of the politically controlled procuracy, Frenkel may very well be guilty of the murder for all we know (broken clocks are right twice a day, after all…). Nevertheless, there are still some considerable unanswered questions.

Frenkel’s lawyer Ruslan Koblev resolutely insists on his client’s innocence, telling the media: “We’ll file an appeal to the European court in any case irrespective of the verdict, because in our opinion the violations made by the court and the prosecution in this process have surpassed all possible limits.“Meanwhile, the Russian prosecutor Gulchekhra Ibragimova seemed oddly urgent in her insistence that Frenkel deserves the verdict: “The motive for the crime was revenge. (…) Kozlov was an enemy of shady dealers like Frenkel. I believe the verdict is just.“The man was just convicted by a unanimous jury of having masterminded the murder of the chairman of the Central Bank. Why are the prosecutors still trying to sell us on the taint of his character?The issue of Kozlov’s murder came under a series of new questions last year following two breakthrough investigative reports by Natalia Morari for The New Times (Morari was later exiled from Russia). Her two articles, both of which were translated by this blog, investigated a probe by Austrian prosecutors linking high-ranking members of the Russian government to a money laundering operation involving Diskont Bank and Raiffeisen (RZB) – a scam that was may have been uncovered by Kozlov, resulting in his death.Subsequently a report from the Moscow Times took another look at the Russian government’s claim that Frenkel was responsible for the murder of Kozlov, rather than parties related to Diskont and Raiffeisen:

On the surface, there would appear to be no more reason to link Kozlov’s death with Diskont Bank than with any of the other banks he had closed, including VIP-Bank.But in the days that followed Diskont’s license revocation, the suspect transfers continued, according to Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, who singled out the bank when asked about money-laundering links to Kozlov’s killing. (…)The fact that the bank’s closure happened just two weeks before Kozlov’s shooting on Sept. 13 led Austrian investigators to see a possible link between the two events.A subsequent Austrian Interior Ministry report concluded that a link between Kozlov’s murder and “the criminal actions in Russia” could not be ruled out. “Rather the indications imply a causal relation,” it said.A spokesman for the ministry in Vienna said the link to the Kozlov case was made because of the “very interesting chronology of events.”

And which Russian official is in charge of investigating the Diskont Bank money laundering case? None other than Alexander Bastrykin, one of the sham silovik Yukos investigators who now heads up the investigative committee which Igor Sechin implements on his own behalf in the clan wars. This is not an individual who has any interest in solving real crimes, but rather specializes in the invention of false ones. There have been many others who are alarmed by how open-and-shut this case was for such a high profile political murder.The interesting details don’t stop there. A Raiffeisen subsidiary is in charge of managing half of RosUkrEnergo along with Gazprom – a group whose corruption and non-transparent operations have been excoriated by observers following its role in the gas supply cut off to the Ukraine.These Austrians, it appears, are pretty deep into Russia, and if we have Austrian prosecutors saying that their investigations lead them to believe that there is a link between the Diskont-Raiffeisen investigation and the murder of Kozlov, I believe that these are some reasonable questions we should all be asking of the Russian prosecutors.Photo: Russian policemen convoy Alexei Frenkel (R), former VIP-Bank Chairman of the board, suspected of ordering the murder of the deputy head of Russia’s Central Bank Andrei Kozlov as they leave a Moscow court, 12 January 2006. (AFP/Getty Images)