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Retired high-ranking Russian cop charged in journalist's murder

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • Retired police Lt. Col. Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov is accused of plotting a journalist's murder
  • Anna Politkovskaya was a strong critic of the Kremlin
  • She was killed in her apartment building's elevator in 2006
  • In May, authorities also arrested the alleged triggerman

(CNN) -- Russian authorities have arrested a retired high-ranking police officer as the latest suspect in the 2006 murder of a journalist who was a strong critic of the Kremlin, according to the news agency Itar-Tass.

Retired police Lt. Col. Dmitry Pavlyuchenkov is charged in the murder of reporter Anna Politkovskaya, and he is accused of plotting the killing, authorities told the news agency.

On Friday, Moscow's Basmanny court sanctioned the arrest of Pavlyuchenkov, who told Itar-Tass after the court hearing that "if the court has made this decision, I will not appeal against it."

In May, the alleged triggerman, Rustam Makhmudov, was arrested in Chechnya.

A staunch critic of the Kremlin, Politkovskaya was found shot dead in her apartment building while she was working on a series of reports about Chechnya for Novaya Gazeta, an independent Moscow-based newspaper.

A man in a baseball cap shot Politkovskaya in an elevator of her apartment block in Moscow on the afternoon of October 7, 2006, as she was returning home.

The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists welcomed the detention of the newest suspect in the case.

Pavlyuchenkov is said to have formed a criminal group tasked with killing Politkovskaya, the committee said in a statement.

"We welcome this new, significant development in the investigation into the murder of our colleague Anna Politkovskaya and commend the Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation for its persistent work toward bringing this case to a successful end," Europe and Central Asia Program Coordinator Nina Ognianova said in a statement.

"We now call on investigators to continue building on their progress until all involved in the heinous crime -- particularly its masterminds -- are brought to justice," Ognianova said.

The Investigative Committee of the Russian Federation announced Tuesday night that it had detained Pavlyuchenkov, the Committee to Protect Journalists said.

Authorities accuse the colonel of receiving payment for plotting the journalist's murder and forming the group to carry it out, the journalists' committee said.

Authorities said Pavlyuchenkov had worked as the head of surveillance at Moscow's Main Internal Affairs Directorate, the city's main police force, at the time he organized Politkovskaya's murder, the journalists' committee said.

Investigators charge that he ordered surveillance of the journalist to ascertain her whereabouts and usual routes around Moscow, the journalists committee said, citing an official statement on the Russian committee's website.

Pavlyuchenkov obtained a gun, planned the murder and assigned tasks to accomplices, the official Russian statement says, according to the journalist group.

Sergei Sokolov, deputy editor of Novaya Gazeta, told Russian journalists that Pavlyuchenkov's detention might help the search for the murder's ultimate mastermind, the journalists committee said.

Politkovskaya, a special correspondent for Novaya Gazeta, chronicled human rights abuses in Chechnya, and those stories led to threats against her, the journalists group said.

Politkovskaya covered the second Chechen war for seven years, and her work angered Russian authorities, the journalists committee said. An indomitable journalist, she was jailed, forced into exile and poisoned during her career.

The alleged triggerman, Makhmudov, was on the run at the time of Politkovskaya's killing because he was charged with another crime. He has been on the international wanted list since May 2008.

The arrest was carried out by the Federal Security Service and Russia's Interior Ministry and was facilitated by law enforcement in Belgium where Makhmudov had been hiding earlier, the Russian Investigative Committee said.

Lawyer Murad Musayev has told Russia's Interfax news agency that videos and DNA tests will prove Makhmudov's innocence.

The slain journalist's lawyers have said that Makhmudov should have been arrested four years ago because investigators have long suspected him of involvement in the murder.

Ibragim and Jabrail Makhmudov -- Rustam Makhmudov's brothers -- and two former law enforcement officers were suspects in the case, but a Moscow district court acquitted them in February 2009 because of a lack of evidence.

The Russian Supreme Court repealed the acquittal and ordered the prosecution to re-investigate the case.