Both RF Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov (center) and head of the FSB Nikolai Patrushev (left) deny that the prisoners are their subordinates. However, former RF Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov claimed on February 26 that they were special service officers.
Photo: Ilya Pitalev
Sergei Ivanov Tied to the Case
// of the Russians in Qatar
Yesterday the Qatari newspaper Al-Raia published sensational news: the two Russians arrested in Qatar had received the order to eliminate Zelimkhan Yandarbiev from Minister of Defense Sergei Ivanov personally. Special Kommersant correspondent Mikhail Zygar went to the Prosecutor General’s Office in Qatar for clarification. There they confirmed that that the Qatari prosecutor’s indictment really did contain this assertion. In turn, the Russians’ lawyer, Moksen as-Suweidi, gave the special correspondent one more sensational piece of news: he knew nothing about the claim that the Russians were members of the special services made by acting Minister of Foreign Affairs (MID) Igor Ivanov on February 26. The lawyer thought that MID’s announcement could seriously complicate his clients’ situation.
During Sunday's hearings of the case of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev's murder, Al-Raia correspondent Samih al-Qaid managed to get a look at a more complete version of the indictment than the prosecutor had read. It was hard to say whether this was a deliberate move by the emirate's authorities, but after familiarizing himself with this document, the Qatari journalist pointed to the person who had “placed the order” for the ex-president of Ichkeria.
From the article in Al-Raia it follows that the order to eliminate Zelimkhan Yandarbiev came from none other than the Russian minister of defense, who instructed a person named Aleksandr (this may refer to Aleksandr Fetisov, the former first secretary of the embassy in Qatar – Kommersant) to assign two officers of a certain Russian special service to organize the murder attempt. The newspaper wrote that they tracked the ex-president of Ichkeria via a Russian satellite. A Russian Embassy official named Evgeny allegedly directed the external surveillance. A remote-control explosive device was specially made to carry out the operation to kill Mr. Yandarbiev. Plasit was used as the explosive.
Quoting the testimony of the suspects, the newspaper reported that on February 13, the day of the terrorist act, the two men disguised themselves by sticking on black beards and got into a rented car parked near the Sheraton Hotel, leaving the embassy car there. Then they placed the bomb under Zelimkhan Yandarbiev's car. After the explosion, the officers did not immediately leave the scene of the crime, but watched the events and were even photographed by journalists who had arrived at the scene.
I set off for the Qatari Prosecutor General's Office for clarification. I needed to see Saad Hanif Dursi, the prosecutor in charge of the Russians' case. However when I arrived, I was told that he was out on important business relating to national security and would not be in that day. Just on the off-chance I asked if I could at least speak to his secretary, and they unexpectedly let me in.
Mr. Hanif Dursi's secretary told me that the prosecutor would not be in until next Sunday. I took out my copy of Al-Raia and brandishing it, peppered the secretary with all my pent-up questions.
– Everything's correct; the journalists didn't make up anything, – he answered calmly. – I wasn't at the interrogations and I don't whether they really confessed to this. But it's all written in the indictment exactly as in the newspaper, about the minister and about the satellite. I can't add anything else.
At that moment, a dignified Qatari with an envelope in his hands entered the office. After greeting us, he began talking to the prosecutor's secretary about what a hard day he'd had yesterday and how much work there would be in the next few weeks.
– How many volumes of case materials are there? – the newcomer asked the secretary.
– Eighty or eighty-five, I think, – said the secretary, staring wide-eyed. – Oh, by the way, I should introduce you: this is a Russian journalist and this is the Russians' lawyer, Moksen as-Suweidi.
This was a meeting that neither of us had expected. I started by telling Mr. as-Suweidi that I had seen his picture in the paper but hadn't recognized him when we met, so in the Russian view he was in the money. Once again I pulled the issue of Al-Raia with the lawyer's picture out of my knapsack.
– Yes, that's me, – he said, indicating the photo showing the four lawyers of the imprisoned Russians. – This one is an American, but he's originally an Arab from Egypt. This is Dmitry (he meant Dmitry Afanasev, the head of the group of defence lawyers for the Russians). He's Russian but also almost American; he's spent a lot of time in Florida. This is Leonid (Leonid Syukiyainen, a specialist in Arabic law – Kommersant). But, you know, the Russian government has forbidden us to tell journalists anything important.
Something inside me snapped. I had already heard this a dozen times from the Russian lawyers. On learning that I was from Kommersant, Dmitry Afanasev did not even want to greet me. However, Mr. Suweidi took a more reasonable and even creative approach to his obligations.
– I never give out information to journalists that might harm my clients. For example, on Sunday, members of the press tried to make a copy of the indictment and had even started copying it (this is how Al-Raia obtained the information on the Russian defense minister's involvement in the case. – Kommersant). I insisted that the judge prohibit them from doing this. Disclosing all the information would be rather dangerous.
– Have you been able to talk to the accused? How are they doing?
– Everything's OK. They have no complaints, although one of them isn't feeling very well. He has heart problems. They're just young guys after all: Anatoly is 35 and Vasily is 32.
– Do you meet with them often?
– No. I actually came here about that. I've brought a letter for the prosecutor asking him to allow me in to see my clients more often. I've visited them only once so far, on March 24. They were in the central prison then.
– Where are they now?
– I don't know. Who knows? I'm trying to get them to allow me to visit them more often. I've brought a petition for the prosecutor, but he's not here. Now I'll go to the Prosecutor General. How long can they keep everything secret? Once an open trial has started, everything has to be according to the law, even if it's inconvenient to have journalists present. Enough secrecy!
– Are the Russian lawyers allowed to see the accused?
– Are you kidding! Of course not. They haven't even been allowed to associate in court. I'm the only one of the lawyers who's working. The consul, Maksim Maksimov, goes to see them from the Russian side. So he has the most exact information; he visits them twice a week, on Wednesdays and Sundays I think.
– The prosecution claims that the accused admitted their guilt during the investigation, during interrogations at the prosecutor's office, and even at the preliminary hearings on March 26. Is that true?
– Yes, it's true. That's what the prosecution says. We don't believe them. And our clients say that they were tortured and forced to confess to everything.
– Tortured? How?
– Well, there are a lot of different ways, you know. I don't really know. Look at what happened. They were arrested on February 18. Then the interrogations started, on February 18, 19, 21, 21…. All this time, they kept saying the same thing: they were technicians who had arrived to work at the Russian Embassy; they were employees of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MID), technical personnel responsible for technical and information security. Then they suddenly confessed that they worked for the special services. What does this tell you? That they were tortured.
– But MID has acknowledged that they worked for the special services.
– Seriously? Who said that?
– Acting Minister of Foreign Affairs Igor Ivanov officially announced it (on February 26, the acting minister stated that the Russians imprisoned in Qatar were Russian special service officers attached to the embassy who were involved in analyzing information related to counteracting international terrorism – Kommersant).
– Really? That was a terrible mistake. He should never have done that! Imagine that you work for the Russian special services and you're arrested in Qatar. You're sitting in jail, but at the interrogations you claim you're a technician working at the embassy. Suddenly, your investigators come to you and say: you say you're a technician, but your minister of foreign said that you're a secret agent. What will you do after that? You can confess to confess to anything you like. What a mistake!
– Did they actually say that their orders came from the minister of defense?
– That's what the prosecution says. We don't believe it. Yesterday at the hearings the prosecutor read out to them all the items they had allegedly confessed to earlier, and both of them strongly denied their guilt, saying nothing of the sort had actually happened.
– But some Qatari media claim that one of them partially admitted his guilt in court on Sunday; not for murder, but for fraud.
– No, there was no fraud involved at all. He only admitted that he had rented the car on someone else's documents. Look, to rent a car you need a driver's license and a credit card to pay in advance, right? He didn't have either a license or a credit card. He got them from another embassy employee, Aleksandr (Fetisov – Kommersant). He went to the agency and said: my friend wants to rent a car; here's his license and credit card.
– Why did they need a car? Did they actually drive to the mosque?
– No, they got the car on Thursday to go on a picnic and travel around the country. You know that Friday and Saturday are days off here. But as it turned out, some higher-ups arrived from Moscow that Friday and ordered them to cancel the trip. So they returned the car on Friday and decided to postpone the trip until the following weekend. Why lose 400 rials a day?
–Their telephone was most likely tapped…
– No, it was more complicated than that. When they arrived at the car rental agency on Friday, it was closed. But they read a telephone number on the door and called to explain where they had left the car. Then they were arrested as a result of that call. Someone had seen the car, a silver minivan, near the mosque where Zelimkhan Yandarbiev was killed and had written down the license number. They traced it by the license number. The Qatari mobile telephone company Q-Tel, which was attached to the investigation, reported the number the agency was called from. From that number, they determined who had called.
– So is the accusation based on the fact that someone saw their car near the mosque?
– Yes, there are witnesses who saw the car. But of course no one saw them place the explosives.
– Will questioning of the witnesses start on April 25?
– So why did the Russian lawyers claim yesterday that the hearings had been postponed for four weeks? April 25 is only two weeks away.
– Quite right, four weeks. I asked for that. But the prosecutor replied that he had 13 witnesses and if the proceedings were delayed for a month, he wouldn't be able to gather them all together. Therefore, the judge agreed to postpone the session for two weeks. After that, they plan to hold sessions once a week for two or three witnesses at a time.
– When you planning to finish, approximately?
– I think everything will be finished by June.
All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 13, 2004