MOSCOW, Oct. 4 (UPI) — The trial of five men accused of killing Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov began in Moscow with the defendants pleading not guilty.
The accused — Zaur Dadayev, Anzor Gubashev, Shadid Gubashev, Temirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev – are Chechens from Russia’s restive North Caucasus region and are suspected of shadowing Nemtsov for months and then killing him. Nemtsov was Russia’s deputy prime minister in former president Boris Yeltsin‘s administration from 1997 to 1998; a fierce critic of current President Vladimir Putin and leader of the opposition Republican Party of Russia, he was shot four times and killed on the night of Feb. 27, 2015, as he walked with his girlfriend across a Moscow bridge adjacent to the Kremlin.
The five defendants have said their confessions came after they were beaten by Russian security guards; another suspect deliberately exploded a grenade, killing him, as security agents attempted to arrest him.
The death of Nemtsov was a contract killing, his family has maintained, insisting authorities have not yet uncovered the true suspect in his death.
“Nemtsov’s murder hasn’t been solved. We hope this court hearing will help to get additional arguments to force investigators and the government to conduct a proper investigation, not only those into who carried it out but against those who have plotted this murder,” said Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for the family.
Nemtsov’s supporters have blamed Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, a pro-Moscow critic of the liberal political opposition with whom Nemtsov had a feud at the time of his death. In court, prosecutor Olga Mikhailova noted Kadyrov had not been questioned in Nemtsov’s death, and no surveillance video of the incident had surface, despite the proximity of the crime to the Kremlin.
The trial was delayed by the inability of investigators to locate Ruslan Mukhudinov, a Chechen security officer who they believe may have paid the defendants $240,000 to commit the crime. Mukhudinov, the only person named as a possible organizer of the plot to kill Nemtsov, is believed to have left Russia, and prosecutors have been unable to connect a motive for the crime to him.