We are publishing here the full transcript of the press conference that was held on Thursday, 19 February, at the Interfax news agency in Moscow. You may have seen excerpts in reports on Russia's main TV channels. Here you can read the harshest and most important of the comments made by the Politkovskaya family attorneys, Karinna Moskalenko and Anna Stavitskaya, by Novaya gazeta chief editor Sergey Sokolov and by Anna Politkovskaya's son Ilya.
First to speak was Karinna Moskalenko, lead attorney for the Politkovskaya family.
“We have talked before and exchanged opinions with many of the journalists gathered here today but until the last the attorneys for the injured party maintained its neutrality during the trial. We decided we must not influence the jury in any way and remain as neutral as they were until the final verdict was pronounced.
“The aim of a criminal trial is to defend the rights of those injured by the crime. You can see two of them here; in reality there are more. This aim was not achieved but it must be attained through a punctilious application of the law and respect for the rights of the accused. In that sense we who support the implementation of these laws cannot complain about the verdict to acquit the accused.
We welcome trial by jury in our country and consider it the fairest form of justice. One way or another, the jurors today reached their conclusion. We shall never know what discussions and arguments led them there — but, please note, it was a unanimous decision. As citizens of Russia, we and citizens of other countries who respect the institution of trial by jury, should accept that this decision has been taken. It has not yet acquired the force of law, the sentence has not even been pronounced – that will happen tomorrow. However, we acknowledge that this decision arose from competing arguments between the two sides and, together with Anna Stavitskaya and our clients, we took great care that the rights of both sides were respected.
I would like to conclude today by saying that it was very important for us not to make accusations and not to incline to one side or the other. The accused had good defence attorneys, who worked conscientiously during the trial and they proved equal to their task. We have just witnessed a rare example in Russia of a genuinely adversarial judicial process. And if as a result the jurors concluded that that guilt of one or another individual has not been proved then we must agree: failure to prove guilt means that they must acquit the accused.
Anna Stavitskaya, attorney for injured party: “If you recall, at the very beginning of the trial we issued a statement that the investigation had not been very effective. Our view, which we have held from the first hearing, is that the case should not have reached the courts in such a state. The entire trial has proved how right we were. It is now impossible to reproach the jurors and say that they made an incorrect judgment and did not appreciate what happened during the trial.
We listened attentively to the arguments of the prosecution and the defence and heard how the latter tried to sway the jurors. In our view, the defence was more convincing. The decision of the jury arose from the way the two parties worked and because the evidence was insufficient to permit an unequivocal conclusion as to the guilt of the accused. We may speculate why this verdict was reached. From a legal point of view, however, and I am a lawyer and cannot abandon that viewpoint, if guilt has not been proved then the verdict must clearly be for acquittal.”
Sergey Sokolov, chief editor of Novaya gazeta: As people know, Novaya gazeta has carried out, and continues to pursue, its own investigation. I have explanations for many of the questions raised here by the attorneys for the Politkovskaya family. We also respect the verdict of the jury and do not intend to raise doubts about it. That is the business of the prosecutor’s office, which intends to appeal to a higher court.
There could indeed have been more evidence cited in court, and more people in the dock. Those who went free today were involved in the murder. We continue to insist on our interpretation. We are not lawyers and things are rather easier for us in that respect. Why did things turn out this way? The investigators will never agree with us but my view is that they were simply not allowed to do their job. This was not the result of some order from above but due to the resistance of the entire system. When those serving in the law enforcement agencies, the special services and their numerous undercover agents proved to have been involved in this story, the system erected an enormous shield.
Start with the fact that the killer Rustam Makhmudov was helped to go into hiding. How could someone who was on the federal wanted list and living under another surname, travelling with an FSB officer on certain special operations, get a foreign travel passport in a third name and leave the country?
Why was FSB officer Ryaguzov’s workplace not searched properly? After I testified I learned certain things and found out, unexpectedly, that an enormous number of documents of all kinds were confiscated from the apartments of all the accused (including a shopping list, saying who should buy fish and who, margarine) yet the search of Mr Ryaguzov’s office was conducted in the following way: a paper with a telephone number was found in his safe but the rest “bore no relation to the case”. Another paper was taken from his desk, the rest “bore no relation to the case”. The hard drive on his computer “bore no relation to the case”. How could that be possible if all those with whom he was in contact were directly linked to his network of agents? Why were the investigators provided neither with the personnel details of those agents nor the archives relating to the activities of Lom Gaitukayev [imprisoned uncle of the brothers Makhmudov] and the rest of that company? Finally, why were the investigators not given the tape recordings made by the FSB of Ryaguzov’s phone calls?
There are a great many such questions. I believe that if the investigators had been allowed to work effectively the result today would have been quite different. The scale of obstruction, let me repeat, was enormous. And what is now accounted the shortcomings of the investigation I consider to be their misfortune. For today’s verdict is a condemnation of the entire law enforcement system in our country which, from beginning to end, does not do its work effectively.
The assassin was recognised two days after the murder and the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation was informed who he was. The investigators only learned of this six months later. How is that possible? What can that be called but obstruction?
Ilya Politkovsky: I am fully in agreement with the views stated here. I’d like to add that having studied the case materials before the trial, I still consider that the four men released today by the jury were involved to one degree or another in my mother’s murder. I am not a lawyer, I am saying how things appear to me. Their degree of guilt and involvement should have been proven in court. The prosecutors were unable to do so. In any case, the verdict of the jurors was unanimous. They did not have to go to a vote. They were all for an acquittal.
Question from the audience: Who obstructed the investigation? Do you have your own ideas on that?
Sergey Sokolov: Yes, I do. Permit me to give a lengthy answer.
Every journalist who writes about crime in Russia know that as soon as you begin to investigate even a quite petty offence you instantly come across corrupt policemen who are backed up by corrupt police chiefs and so on up the line. So when we speak of colleagues from the law enforcement agencies who come to the attention of their own organisation, an enormous criminal network is exposed. They become very fearful that if one thread is followed the entire system might collapse: the general fears that a sergeant may be arrested because one way or another he himself will then be exposed.
During the trial it became known that Ryaguzov’s chief took a plane trip with the accused in this criminal case. He knew very well about these people and was regularly in contact with them. Do you think he’d put himself at risk? Never. That is why there were such a vast number of leaks from the special services and the Ministry of Internal Affairs. That was how the killer escaped. That was why others could not be charged.
Let us be frank about this: even the arrests were made in a hurry, in my view, due to certain infighting between the Prosecutor General's office and the new Investigative Committee [set up in autumn 2007] who all wanted to get there first. That’s not doing the job, it’s fighting for control. That’s why I’m speaking up for the investigators because they had to work in the conditions that existed. And those were the conditions.
Karinna Moskalenko: I’d like to disagree a little with Sergey .
Neither during the investigation nor afterwards did I hear any complaints from the investigators that anyone was obstructing their work. Furthermore, there are procedural norms that enable the investigators to express such indignation and demand that they are assured of their right to work independently.
Of course, I don’t live on another planet, I know perfectly well what Sergey is talking about and the examples he gives probably did take place. However, I do not see that this justifies the investigators. If each time we adopt an improper attitude to the situation of the investigators, the people who are officially entrusted to carry out a criminal investigation, we won’t get results but end up with what happened today: if the case goes before a panel of judges, everyone is convicted; if the case goes before an independent jury, made up of our fellow citizens who are not prepared to find people guilty for reasons of convenience, the verdict will be to acquit.
I can agree that the investigators were obstructed, I know of such incidents. Novaya gazeta informed us of such occurrences. The investigators should realise, however, that if they are to defend their honour as professionals they must speak out about the facts and circumstances that hinder them in conducting a normal investigation.
The case has been tried, however, and today we would like to say that there were two cases and that which remains with the Prosecutor General's office is what we call the main case. No, they told us, the main case is the one you’re dealing with. Today we declare that the main case has become the one and only case and you still have the chance to investigate it. If someone obstructs you then tell the rest of society and demand independence.
Even so this trial has yielded its fruits. We learned new facts that we shall analyse. Earlier we submitted various petitions to the investigators but they turned us down. Let’s see what they do with our suggestions now.
Anna Stavitskaya: I don’t know who obstructed the investigation. If an investigator is honest then, I consider, he or she must report the fact. To say when you are investigating a crime: “Someone hindered me and so I did not solve the crime,” is unprofessional, to say the least, and in general cowardly. However, the investigation also obstructed us, the attorneys for the injured party. We weren’t even allowed access to the case materials. Perhaps if we had been given such access and if the investigator had paid attention to the petitions we submitted things would have turned out differently.
Question from the audience: In the light of what you have just said, is it possible within the system you describe to bring charges against anyone?
Sergey Sokolov: My view is that if the State wants to convict someone, then it will. If the State displays a lack of interest in securing a conviction then we get something like today’s result. Having become immersed in this subject with the cases of Anna Politkovskaya, Yury Shchekochikhin, Igor Domnikov, Stas Markelov and Nastya Baburova [murdered Novaya gazeta journalists and editors; Markelov was the paper’s lawyer] I understand perfectly that the system is not just rotten. It simply cannot function, whatever attempts may be made by particular individuals. It’s impossible, the system doesn’t work.
Question from the audience: Will you now demand a new team of investigators? If Garibyan remains in charge how effectively will he be able to work, after what happened today?
Sergey Sokolov: The prospects are not good but they are not at all linked to the figure of lead investigator Petros Garibyan. If such obstruction is encountered when dealing with the small fry I can imagine what will happen when the investigators began to home in on the person who ordered the killing.
We have theories about his identity. But in this situation I would like to warn people against attempts to create a PR operation of the second case. An effective manager from the prosecutor’s office could be put in charge of the team of investigators: we know how they investigated Khodorkovsky case and many others. They’ll pick up the first tramp who crosses their path, make him the culprit and close the case. In this situation I would very much like professionals to be on the job. It’s not a good idea to exclude people who have already become engrossed in the case and have their own ideas. There have already been attempts to change the investigator. It was not helpful. I don’t think they need to take such decisions about the people involved. Perhaps my colleagues do not share that view.
Karinna Moskalenko: We have not yet decided whether to ask for a different investigator – we certainly have the right. Is it worth doing so now or will the team of investigators realise that they did not take into account the many pieces of advice we submitted in the form of petitions? If we see them engaged in pointless activities or taking action that we do not understand: if they show a lack of attention to our petitions we shall discuss whether to demand a new team of investigators.
As far as the line to be pursued now by the investigation ... If on any of the charges any of the accused had been convicted the investigation could say it’s job was done. So far the investigation has got nowhere. I think this makes the necessity for more effective work quite obvious. By that I mean a team of investigators which would not be lead by some ranking official from parallel agencies. The investigators must be in full control of the case materials and if there is some additional detective work then it must be controlled by the investigators. There is nothing more we can say. There are certain theories and we shall be submitting petitions but will be doing so privately. We must let the investigators do their jobs —but only when we see that they are ready to be serious about it.
Anna Stavitskaya: Do you remember doing maths in school? It makes no difference which side of the equation you place a sum, the result is the same. If Garibyan is replaced by Ivanov or Petrov and he also is prevented from doing his job nothing will have been achieved. It is not important who is working to solve the crime. If the investigation want to solve it, they will.
Question from the audience: Karinna, at the beginning of the trial you said you considered it was a mistake of the investigators not to pay attention to Ramzan Kadyrov’s statement that he knew who had committed the murder. You also considered it a mistake that there was no investigation into the fact that Anna was killed on Putin’s birthday. What do you think now of these issues?
Karinna Moskalenko: Thank you for your question. At the beginning of these judicial hearings there was a row because words were wrongly attributed to me. Moskalenko, supposedly, had asked for Ramzan Kadyrov to appear as a witness in court. I had to reply a hundred times and more over the phone that I had not submitted such a request. The names of Kadyrov and Putin were certainly mentioned when the parties made their opening statements but not at all in the sense that I had requested they be summoned to appear in court.
Those representing the injured party said that the investigation would be effective, in particular, when it made a thorough check of all the theories and interpretations that deserved attention. If someone, and it did not matter whether it was Ramzan Kadyrov or Ivan Ivanov, declared that he knew something for certain, especially in a case where the evidence was patently inadequate, then of course his testimony must be taken.
When I said that Anna’s death occurred on Putin’s birthday I was talking about the development of interpretations by the investigation. This fact should have been analysed and a statement made as to how far it might or might not be linked to the motive behind the crime. After all, perhaps these were enemies of Putin. It is possible to construct at least two interpretations of this fact, and possibly more. We do not know to what extent these interpretations were verified; there is no trace of such verification. This is yet another example of a shortcoming in the work of the team of investigators.
Question from the audience: Karinna, did you expect that the verdict would be an acquittal?
Karinna Moskalenko: Until the last minute, as you know, those representing the injured party maintained their neutrality. That was the essence of our contribution to the closing remarks. We did not want our viewpoint, our errors or the rightness of our position, to influence in any way the convictions of the jurors. We wanted it their decision to be the unaffected will of the jury, because they knew of our neutrality and our refusal to take the opportunity to side with prosecution or the defence. And so we did not publicise our point of view.
Today we can say, Yes, we did consider that possibility. That’s not to say we expected an acquittal: I could not say that because, as the people sitting with me here have already told you, we suspected that those who had been charged knew about certain of the circumstances [of the crime]. However, was it possible to accept that there was sufficient evidence of their guilt? The answer is no, rather than yes. However, we might nevertheless have expected an acquittal and gave thought to that possibility. Today when the jury withdrew and we were waiting for the verdict we told ourselves, when it took them two hours to reach a decision: “Yes, they’ve acquitted them.” And as my colleague has already said, the defence gave a convincing performance.
Question from the audience: You consider they’re guilty?
Karinna Moskalenko: When I was on my way here I thought: The people in this audience will be easy to talk to — I won’t have to hide anything from them. I cannot thank you for your question. Perhaps, you will consider that I am being evasive. I shall not avoid this question, because I can give no other answer than to say that “for me an acquittal is proof that they are not guilty”. I am a lawyer and my friends from Novaya gazeta are in a much easier position here. Let me tell you what the verdict said: the failure to prove guilt is equivalent to the proof of innocence. That is a principle which I shall never deny.
Sergey Sokolov: Let me take up the question deflected by Karinna and answer as follows. I consider that all four accused individuals were involved in this murder, and other people with whom I conducted a journalistic investigation share that view. Let me go further. I am very concerned, genuinely concerned, for the witnesses who gave evidence in court in the Politkovskaya case and the subsidiary Ponikarov case [concerning Khadjikurbanov and Ryaguzov]. I would assume that their lives and health are in danger. The people in the dock were not the most important figures in this case but extremely significant all the same. I would ask all journalists to keep an attentive eye on the witnesses in this case and what happens to them now.
Question from the audience: Do you have the feeling that the case will be taken to its logical conclusion?
Karinna Moskalenko: We shall force the investigators to work. As attorneys for the injured party we make that promise to you, to ourselves and to society. We shall make them work.
While the trial was taking place we prepared and have already submitted several petitions. We did not stop working for one minute. We came to court, knowing that the evidence was weak and we leave it with the conviction that our worries were well-founded. We did not need to be offered scapegoats, however. In my experience as an attorney I have at times looked with astonishment at the injured party and if the evidence was insufficient I always thought to myself: “What good does it do if they send these people to prison? Wouldn’t you really prefer the truth?”
My clients in this case only want to know the truth. With my colleague Anna Stavitskaya we shall never be content with half-truths — above all because Anya Politkovskaya herself would never have been satisfied with a half-truth.
Sergey Sokolov: We remain very that the trial was open. If you remember, there were clumsy attempts to have it held behind closed doors. Our deep respect to Mr Kolesov, the juror who brought all this story out into the open. Thanks to the open proceedings the entire story showed our law enforcement system and special services in a most unfavourable light.
All these agents, who must not be mentioned, who get on with their own lives and answer to no one; all the testimony of Ryaguzov and his admissions in court; all this system with people being abducted by staff from the organised crime department: this was all uncovered before your eyes. We have two verdicts in front of us. One, is de jure and for acquittal; the other is de facto and for conviction. The entire trial has issued a verdict that condemns the degraded system of our law enforcement agencies and the corruption that exists in Russia.
Question from the audience: Ilya, are you disappointed with the verdict?
Ilya Politkovsky: I’m not disappointed. This is the verdict and that’s that. I am disappointed with the charges and those people who prepared them. This verdict is the result of the documents that were presented in court. That is very important. I was prepared for such an outcome.