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#4 - JRL 7217
The Times (UK)
June 10, 2003
Murder charges faced by Chechen 'are trumped up'
By Helen Rumbelow

The Russian Government's attempt to extradite a Chechen leader on murder charges is a political ploy to justify their violence in the region, a London court was told yesterday.

Akhmed Zakayev, 44, Deputy Prime Minister in the Chechen Government that was elected in 1997 but with which Moscow refuses to deal until it agrees that the republic is part of Russia, appeared at Bow Street Magistrates' Court for the extradition hearing.

Mr Zakayev was arrested in London last December; Vanessa Redgrave, a supporter, then appeared in court to provide Pounds 50,000 in bail. He had travelled to Britain as the actress's guest to plead the cause of the separatist republic to the West.

The case hinges on whether the judge, Timothy Workman, decides that the fighting between Russia and the Chechen rebels is a war of independence or a Russian suppression of criminal terrorism. Russia wants to try Mr Zakayev on 13 charges relating to his part in the conflict from 1994 to 1996 and that since 1999.

"Zakayev is alleged to have been responsible for a large number of terrorist attacks, murders and kidnappings with a view to forcing the Government of the Russian Federation to accede to his demands," said James Lewis, QC, for the Russian Government.

About half the charges allege that Mr Zakayev personally murdered or tortured people during the conflicts; others accuse him of ordering his men to "murder, wound and hostage-take" in battles in Chechnya, especially in the capital, Grozny.

The court was told that Russia had dropped charges that Mr Zakayev was involved in the siege of a theatre in Moscow last year and that he had murdered a Russian Orthodox priest, after the priest was found alive in Moscow.

Mr Zakayev denies all the charges, but if the judge decides that Mr Zakayev was fighting in a war, rather than as a terrorist, the accusations would not have legal standing anyway, his counsel, Edward Fitzgerald, QC, said.

He argued that the Russian Government had decided to seize on the US war against terrorism after the September 11 attacks on America to portray the Chechen uprisings as terrorist activity that they were justified in stamping out. In late 2001 officials compared Mr Zakayev to Osama bin Laden, Mr Fitzgerald said, even though Russia's spokesman on Chechnya said at the same time that he was not implicated in a single criminal case.

"For years he was someone whom the Russians negotiated with and whom they commended for his moderate stance," counsel said. "If you look at the history, the lateness of the request, the timing and the charges, all indicate that this is an improper prosecution": it was being pursued for an ulterior, political motive.

"The changing and unfounded nature of the allegations have all the hallmarks of trumped-up charges," he said, referring to the mistaken allegation that a priest had been murdered. "We respectfully submit that the resurrection of Father Sergei is an example of the fabrication at work."

Were Mr Zakayev handed over to Russia, not only would he be extremely unlikely to get a fair trial, he said, but his fate would be "bloody and tragic".

"There is a very real risk that he will be killed, disappeared or tortured, as had happened to numerous of his compatriots," he said.

Grozny "had been occupied, brutalised, and...was being liberated," he said.

Murder was defined as taking place during the Queen's Peace "and the definition of the Queen's Peace is that it is not a time of war", said Mr Fitzgerald.

At this point Mr Lewis interrupted: "We accept that there was a serious civil uprising in Grozny, but it was not a war because it was internal," he said.

The hearing continues.

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