Today the Russian procuracy provided the world with yet another reminder of its near-total inability to administer justice during the first proceedings (jury selection) of the retrial for the suspected murderers of Forbes bureau chief and corruption muckraker Paul Klebnikov. However, the judge had to suspend proceedings until March because the two main suspects, Kazbek Dukuzov and Musa Vakhayev, were nowhere to be found (it is quite puzzling that these two men have been spending the past three years freely wandering the streets). Many of you will recall that after Klebnikov was brutally murdered in front of his office on July 9th, 2004, the Russian authorities conducted a notoriously sloppy investigation followed by a rushed trial under judge Vladimir Usov (the same judge who sentenced Alexei Pichugin) which found the defendants not guilty. Last November, the Supreme Court overturned the acquittal, however the problem of transparency in the court proceedings persists, and the Russians have been very stubborn in persuing other lines of inquiry outside this particular group of Chechens. Paul Klebnikov, a brave and honorable journalist whose memory deserves justice The IHT quotes Paul’s brother, Michael: “We continue to think that the best way for this to be done — for it to be just and fair — is to do it openly,” he said by phone from New York, where he lives. “Secondly, we have a question of why they were not in custody in the first place. They are murder suspects.” And here’s what the Committee to Protect Journalists has to say about it:
Authorities failed to guarantee the safety or impartiality of jurors after the proceedings, sources close to the trial told CPJ. Jurors were not sequestered and could be readily approached entering or exiting the courtroom. The then-presiding judge, Vladimir Usov, and other court officials, did not stop the defendants or some defense representatives from making threatening statements in court that could have affected the jury, a CPJ source said. Those and other allegations of procedural violations raised doubts about the validity and fairness of the trial. “We call on Russian court officials to hold an open trial,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “The first trial was riddled with procedural violations that were hidden from the public with closed-door proceedings and a gag order on all participants. We call on Russian court officials to open the hearing to the public to ensure a fair trial.” For four months following the May 5 verdict, court officials effectively blocked the Klebnikov family’s appeal to the Supreme Court by failing to provide them and their representatives with a transcript of the trial proceedings, which they needed to prepare a detailed appeal. Since the trial proceedings were sealed, and audio and video recording in the courtroom was prohibited, the transcript was the only document detailing the hearing. Russia’s Law of Criminal Procedure requires that access to the transcript be given to the plaintiffs within three days. The Klebnikovs filed their request for access in May and received the transcript in September. Six months after the verdict, on November 9, 2006, Russia’s Supreme Court overturned the acquittal of Dukuzov and Vakhayev and ordered a retrial. Even then, court officials stalled the process by waiting over two months to set a start date for the new trial, and by failing to take the two suspects in the pre-trial custody, CPJ sources said. Dukuzov and Vakhayev were not in custody on Wednesday and it was unclear whether they would be present in court for the trial’s opening.