Trial Against Kadyrov’s Hitmen Begins in Austria
On November 16th, three Kadyrovites went on trial in Austria in connection with the murder of Chechen refugee, Umar Israilov, in 2009.
27-years old Chechen refugee Umar Israilov, who was a former bodyguard of Ramzan Kadyrov and had also been tortured by Kadyrov, was murdered in broad daylight in Vienna in January 2009, as he was leaving a supermarket. He had appealed to the European Court of Human Rights against Russia and its puppet Ramzan Kadyrov.
The first trial in the case was opened under heavy police security. The start of trial, originally scheduled for 9:30 am, was delayed by 20 minutes as a result of the large media interest.
Umar Israilov’s widow and father were present in the court room. Israilov’s widow is reported to be living in Austria with her four children. His father, who is said to have fled Europe in fear of his life, was expected to return to Vienna for the court hearing, under heavy security.
The three Kadyrovites, Turpal Ali Yesherkayev (31-years old), Suleiman Dadayev (36-years old) and Otto Kaltenbrunner (Ramzan Edilov; 42-years old), viewed as the operation’s mastermind, are charged with complicity to murder, associating with criminals, and attempted delivery of an individual to a foreign power. If found guilty, they face possible sentences of 10 to 20 years in prison.
Another Kadyrovite, Lecha Bogatirov, believed to have actually fired the shots that killed Israilov, is still on the run.
State prosecutors in Vienna are seeking to establish ties between Ramzan Kadyrov and the killing of Israilov. However, they have not brought charges against Shaa Turlayev, who is Kadyrov’s advisor and direct organizer of Israilov’s murder, or Ramzan Kadyrov, the ringleader of Russian puppets in Chechnya.
The trial is scheduled to run until November 26.
According to the charges, the suspects were initially meant to bring Israilov back to Chechnya. When he attempted to flee, they shot him, according to police.
In his opening statement, Prosecutor Leopold Bien displayed cell-phone pictures in the Vienna court, that show Otto Kaltenbrunner and Ramzan Kadyrov, both wearing casual clothes, in an embrace. However, while it “seems obvious” that Kadyrov ordered the kidnapping, the available evidence was insufficient to establish his personal responsibility, Bien said. He alleged that Dadaev had been observing Israilov before the killing, while Yeshurkaev and Bogatirov had confronted and followed him as he left the supermarket in a working-class neighborhood of the Austrian capital. In the end, it was Bogatirov who fired the shots that killed Israilov, Bien said. The suspected shooter – believed to be a Chechen contract killer – fled back to his home country after the murder and is now a high- ranking member of the Chechen police force, prosecutors allege. “You would think that he was rewarded for his actions,” Bien told the court.
Kaltenbrunner — considered by prosecutor Leopold Bien to be the main defendant, who “pulled the strings” and had links to Kadyrov — told Judge Friedrich Forsthuber that he had never seen Umar Israilov and expressed his condolences to Israilov’s widow and father who were in the heavily guarded courtroom.
Dadaev said he knew Israilov but that he “would have left the country” had he known about the kidnapping. He said he had heard that Israilov had stolen 300,000 Euro from Chechen resistance fighters and went to see him on the day of the killing to talk to him about it. He heard shots being fired but “didn’t see anything,” he said.
Yeshurkaev denied knowing Israilov.
The day before the trial, Nadja Lorenz, the lawyer representing Israilov’s family, had organized a press conference and said she and her supporters would present evidence linking the defendants to Kadyrov, known for his strong-arm rule. “This will lay the foundation for holding Kadyrov accountable later — that’s what we’re working toward,” said Lorenz, alongside other human rights proponents amid tight security. “We have to use whatever legal means we have to stop the torturers of the world.”
She said police should have done more. “The end of this tragic story was that a number of emails were sent [to police] which named one of those who are now on trial,” she said. “The last email which was sent [by police] told Israilov to call the emergency number if needed … Seven days later he was murdered.”
When asked whether good relations between Austria and Russia may have played a role in the fact that Kadyrov was not charged, Lorenz said: “Of course that’s a political question, and of course Austria doesn’t want any problems with the Russian Federation,” she said.
The case has received considerable attention from human rights activists, who have pointed fingers at Kadyrov from the beginning. They say the trial is likely to expose the culture of intimidation carried out by Grozny onto Chechen refugees abroad.
The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), together with Human Rights Center “Memorial” (Russia), People in Need (Czech Republic), Norwegian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, Austrian Helsinki Association for Human Rights and Novaya Gazeta (Russia) welcomed the opening of the trial in Vienna, Austria, of the alleged perpetrators of the murder of Umar Israilov, a Chechen refugee in Austria. This coalition has decided to send an observation mission to Vienna from November 16 to 26, 2010, for the purpose of observing the court hearings.
“Our organizations consider this trial particularly significant because there exist necessary conditions for an independent court investigation that would make it possible to name all the guilty in this murder. The indictment presented by the Prosecutor’s office of Austria states that the aim of the immediate executors of the crime was the ‘forced abduction of Umar Israilov with the aim of taking him out of the country and his subsequent transfer to the [puppet] authorities in the Chechnya or in case this plan fails; the murder of Umar Israilov’, and it also points to the obvious involvement of the [puppet] Chechen authorities in this crime. It is important that during the trial all persons who were involved in planning; organizing and executing this crime are identified and named regardless of their position or status. This will contribute to combat of impunity for crimes committed in Chechnya and outside Chechnya. Unfortunately in Russia itself an independent trial into such a case cannot take place. The killing of Israilov (as well as his abduction, which was allegedly the initial plan), served as a means to intimidate all Chechens abroad. It became clear that despite having been granted asylum far away from Chechnya expatriates can nevertheless be easily reached even in Europe. Our organizations hope not only that this trial will be fair and all perpetrators will be held accountable but also that it will investigate the context of Israilov’s murder – routine violence and criminal practices which have become a norm in Chechnya and which have spilt outside its borders-to other regions of Russia and further to Europe,” was said in the joint statement of these organizations.
Wolfgang Kaleck, secretary general of the European Center for constitutional and Human Rights, also criticized Austrian authorities for not granting Israilov police protection although he had asked for it. “Austrian authorities disregarded the European and international dimension of this case from the very beginning,” Kaleck said, adding that “much remains to be clarified.”
Heinz Patzelt, head of Austria’s chapter of Amnesty International, said he saw the trial as a key chance to establish evidence against Kadyrov that could then be used as a “very important jigsaw piece” in other, larger proceedings against him. “There’s an enormous responsibility on the judge, on the jury, on the public prosecutor, to raise the right questions and to give very brave answers,” Patzelt said.
Austrian parliamentarian Peter Pilz accused Kadyrov of maintaining several secret agents in Austria to intimidate critics of his pro-Kremlin regime. The Green Party lawmaker told reporters that “Austria’s counter-intelligence service knows about 30 terrorists on Kadyrov’s payroll in Austria. Their mission is to intimidate members of the opposition, threaten them and in some cases attack, kidnap and murder, like in the case of Israilov”.
At the same time, he introduced a member of one of the NGOs, who was 3 times attacked by Kadyrov’s killers. 51-year-old Vakha Banzhayev is the chairman of the Society for Protection of the Victims of Torture and Political Prisoners in Chechnya. Several years ago, he escaped to Austria through Slovakia, fearing for his life. He was granted refugee status in Austria. A few weeks ago, he appealed to the police in connection with an attack. When he was going home one night, he was attacked by several of Kadyrov’s militants. He was severely beaten, seriously wounded and stayed in hospital for a long time. His sight declined from 100 to 5 percent because during the attack, his right eye was damaged. One of the attackers was Kosum Yesherkayev, who has worked for a long time as an informer for the Austrian secret police which has close ties with the Russian terrorist network KGB/FSB.
Peter Pilz demanded urgent action in the terrorist case of Kadyrov who ordered the execution of his former bodyguard Israilov in Vienna. Minister of Justice from the Austrian People’s Party, Claudia Bandion-Ortner, must give the green light to Vienna public prosecutor, Leopold Bien, to bring accusations against Kadyrov, and issue an international warrant for his arrest, said Mr. Pilz.
Mr. Pilz said: “Only a small group of individuals will go on trial on Tuesday. When it comes to a terrorist organization, it consisted not only of executors but also includes a ringleader. And the ringleader is Kadyrov”.
At the same time, Mr. Pilz demanded the deportation from Austria of all known Kadyrov’s terrorists: “This is a strange country. Innocent children are deported from here, but Chechen (Kadyrov’s) terrorists enjoy refugee status. Although the Office for the Protection of the Constitution and Fighting Terrorism (the Austrian secret police) knows of numerous extremists from the local Kadyrov gang, even immigration authorities are still not busy with them. Moreover, since 2005, a diplomat from the Russian Embassy in Vienna, identified as an agent of the KGB/FSB, works all week long in his office in the building of the Austrian secret police. There are reasonable suspicions that this element has access to secret police files on Chechen refugees, which he hands over to Kadyrov’s terrorists. This conflict threatens the security of Austria, where 26,000 Chechens are currently living. Among them are 500 Kadyrov’s terrorists”.
Vakha Banzhayev also made a warning at the press conference about the consequences of a conflict between pro-Russian puppets from among Kadyrov’s terrorists and democratic representatives of the independent Chechnya.
“I suggest that a battle between the groups could cause serious consequences for the Austrian society”, Mr. Banzhayev said.