Zakayev Evidence On Shaky Ground
Published: November 19, 2002 (Issue # 821)
MOSCOW - Prosecutors have sent Denmark evidence implicating Akhmed Zakayev in the 1996 kidnapping of two priests in Chechnya to back up a request for his extradition, Interfax reported Saturday.
But the human-rights group Memorial, whose members interviewed one of the priests after he was freed, said the evidence does not hold up.
Zakayev, a top aide to Chechen separatist leader Aslan Maskhadov, was detained Oct. 30 in Copenhagen after attending a congress of Chechen separatists and human rights activists there. A Danish court ruled he should remain in jail until Nov. 26 while Russia's extradition request is considered. Interfax, citing Prosecutor General's Office spokesperson Leonid Troshin, said prosecutors sent Danish officials evidence of Zakayev's involvement in the kidnapping of Sergei Zhigulin and Anatoly Chistousov, two Russian Orthodox priests.
The evidence is based on the testimony of Zhigulin, who was held for five months before being swapped for a bodyguard of the late Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudayev. His testimony was translated into Danish and handed over to Danish authorities, Troshin said.
Memorial, in a statement posted on its Web site, Memo.ru, said its members visited Zhigulin in the hospital shortly after he was freed and determined that Zhigulin had named Zakayev only because he knew his name.
When a Memorial member showed Zhigulin photos of another Chechen warlord, Doku Makhayev, the priest recognized the man as his abductor and agreed that Zakayev probably was not linked to his abduction, the statement said.
Both Memorial and Ivan Rybkin, a former head of the Security Council, who visited Zakayev in his jail cell in Copenhagen last week, noted that documents implicating Zakayev in crimes in Chechnya that Russian prosecutors had sent to Denmark earlier had several factual mistakes and discrepancies.
For example, in one of the documents the prosecutors wrote that Zakayev's people had seized the two priests and executed both by gunshot, Memorial wrote. In the same batch of documents, prosecutors said one of the priests was freed. According to Zhigulin's own account, Chistousov was beaten to death, not shot.
Prosecutors provided the Danes with a wrong patronymic for Zakayev, and his date and place of birth differed between documents, Rybkin was quoted as saying by the Moskovsky Komsomolets newspaper Friday.
"The Danes look at this and decide that this man fell victim to a fit of temper," Rybkin said. "[Russian officials] are often commanded by the demands of political expediency and turn a blind eye to the judicial aspects."
At the time of Zakayev's arrest, Danish police said they had information from Russia via Interpol of Zakayev's suspected involvement in the Oct. 23 raid by armed Chechen separatists on the Dubrovka theater.
But Danish Justice Ministry officials later said Russia's formal extradition request did not include evidence linking Zakayev to the theater siege.