Suspect in Politkovskaya murder declares his innocence from secret location

Publish date: November 13, 2006

A police officer sought in connection with the death of Anna Politkovskaya, the searing investigative journalist whose reports exposed abuses against Chechen civilians, denied allegations of his involvement in her murder in an interview to the state-run Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

In the interview published Saturday from an undisclosed location, Alexander Prilepin said that he an his colleagues – who are also being sought by police – had been angered by Politkovskaya’s reports, which he called unfounded, but said he had never thought of taking revenge.

Politkovskaya, who exposed torture, killing and other abuses against Chechen civilians by Russian military personnel, was gunned down in the lobby of her Moscow apartment building on October 7th. Investigators say they suspect several gunmen, one who was caught on closed circuit television fleeing the scene.

Politkovskaya’s murder set off an avalanche of international condemnation of free speech and human rights in Russia, and demands that Russian authorities apprehend her killers swiftly. Prilepin, in his interview denied any ties to the shooting, though did not deny his irritation with Politkovskaya’s reports

"I wouldn’t conceal that most of my comrades, who had been in Chechnya and lost their friends and colleagues there, had been angered by the media providing ideological support for the rebels and casting us as butchers," Prilepin said in a reference to Politkovskaya’s articles.

"But no one has ever had any plans to take revenge on journalists. Moreover, it’s completely unclear why we should remember the old grievances now and decide to take revenge after so many years."

Prilepin said he has been hiding from the authorities not because he was guilty, but because he feared a biased trial in Chechnya.

Following a series of Politkovskaya’s articles exposing police atrocities in Chechnya, one of the officers whom she accused of abuses, Sergei Lapin, was implicated in e-mail threats against the journalist. In 2001, Politkovskaya fled to with her family to Vienna after receiving warnings that Lapin was intent on revenge.

Lapin was detained in 2002 and later sentenced to 11 years in prison by a court in Chechnya.

Meanwhile, a former security service officer claimed that he might have been poisoned by a man who had sought to meet him, saying he had documents related to the death of the journalist.

Alexander Litvinenko, a former Federal Security Service (FSB) officer who has been granted asylum in Britain, said Saturday, as quoted by the BBC, the documents contained the name of an individual who might have been related to the killing of Politkovskaya.

Litvinenko said he met the man and took the documents from him at a London restaurant on November 1st. Several hours later, Litvinenko felt ill and was hospitalized with symptoms suggesting poisoning, said the BBC.

The former FSB officer said he would hand over the documents to police and to Novaya Gazeta – the independent and Kremlin critical paper where Politkovskaya worked, and which is conducting its own investigation of the crime – when he recovered.