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After evading police for a decade, a former Russian officer convicted of murdering three Chechen civilians in finally behind bars

Source: Meduza

In 2003, Evgeny Khudyakov and Evgeny Arakcheyev were convicted of murdering three civilians in Chechnya

According to the case materials, three Chechen construction workers employed at military facilities outside Grozny were killed on January 15, 2003: Abdulla Dzhzambekov, Nazhmuddin Khasanov, and Said Yangulbayev. That same day, police detained two Russian officers suspected of the murders: Senior Lieutenant Evgeny Khudyakov and Junior Lieutenant Evgeny Arakcheyev.

According to investigators, on January 15, a reconnaissance group from one of the Interior Ministry units under the command of Khudyakov and Arakcheyev stopped a truck carrying the three construction workers. Khudyakov ordered them out of the vehicle, and told them to lie down on the ground, at which point he opened fire. In order to hide the evidence of the execution, the soldiers then loaded the truck with the three corpses, pushed it to the side of the road, and set it on fire. The same soldiers stopped another car later that day, detaining the driver, Shamil Yunusov. Confiscating his wallet and gold ring, the soldiers transferred him to their military base, where they tortured him into confessing that he had ties to separatist militants. Later, the soldiers removed him from their compound, shot him in the leg, and abandoned him on the road.

The case file indicates the the soldiers were drunk while committing these crimes.

Jurors twice acquitted the officers

The Khudyakov and Arakcheyev trial became one of the most high-profile cases against Russian soldiers for crimes committed in Chechnya. The trial has been compared to the cases against Yuri Budanov (who was sentenced to 10 years in prison for murdering a Chechen girl, and was shot dead in Moscow after going free) and Eduard Ulman (who was charged with murdering six Chechens and acquitted by a jury, before being sentenced in absentia to 14 years and put on a wanted list).

Khudyakov and Arakcheyev were charged with premeditated murder, abuse of authority, and robbery. In early 2004, their trial got underway at the North Caucasian District Military Court. Khudyakov and Arakcheyev pled innocent, and the men under their command (who were called as witnesses) recanted their preliminary testimonies, saying that they’d been forced to incriminate the defendants. In June 2004, former officer Denis Milov, an ex sniper, testified against Khudyakov and Arakcheyev, saying they’d forced their soldiers to tell the court they were innocent. Despite his testimony, however, the jury acquitted both officers on June 29, 2004, observing no “criminal event” in the case. Khudyakov and Arakcheyev walked out of the courtroom as free men.

In November 2004, the Military Collegium of Russia’s Supreme Court quashed the acquittal, after ruling that there were procedural violations in the jury selection. The retrial began in January 2005, again at the North Caucasian District Military Court. Khudyakov and Arakcheyev pled innocent, claiming that no officers were present at the scene of the crime. In October 2006, they were both acquitted on all counts.

The third time around, Khudyakov and Arakcheyev both got long prison sentences

In 2006, Russia’s Supreme Court quashed the second acquittal and sent the case back for another retrial, leading to the arrest of Khudyakov and Arakcheyev, in order to limit their ability to intimidate witnesses against them. In February 2007, however, the Supreme Court’s Military Collegium overturned the arrests and ordered the two officers to be released on their own recognizance. On the eve of this decision, the Supreme Court received several personal petitions from State Duma deputies, vouching for Khudyakov and Arakcheyev. One of these letters came from current Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who a month later acted as the officers’ public defender. Rogozin told the court that militants were responsible for killing the Chechen civilians, claiming that they wanted to “compromise Russia’s armed forces during a visit to Chechnya by a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.” He asked the court to acquit the defendants again.

But the court didn’t agree, and in December 2007 Khudyakov and Arakcheyev were convicted of committing premeditated murder under the influence of alcohol. Arakcheyev got 15 years in prison, and Khudyakov, who didn’t appear in court, was sentenced to 17 years. The following month, he was put on a wanted list.

For nearly a decade, nothing was known about Khudyakov’s whereabouts, until police finally apprehended him in August 2017

Khudyakov was on the run so long that his partner in crime, Evgeny Arakcheyev, served out his entire prison sentence and went free in December 2016.

Alena Katykailo, the press secretary for the North Caucasus District Military Court that convicted the two officers, told Meduza that police caught Khudyakov in the Vladimir region on August 24. According to the newspaper Kommersant, he spent the last decade hiding in the Voronezh region, working at a small agricultural enterprise.

After police caught Khudyakov, they brought him to Rostov and formally informed him about his murder conviction and 17-year sentence.

On September 21, Russia’s Federal Penitentiary Service started enforcing the sentence against Khudyakov, and in mid-October he was transferred to a federal institution to serve out his time. The court still doesn’t know where exactly Khudyakov is being incarcerated — that information hasn’t arrived yet from the prison authorities. His 17-year sentence technically began on the day he was detained outside Vladimir.

Alvi Karimov, the spokesperson for Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, refused to comment on Khudyakov’s arrest, when contacted by Meduza.

Russian text by Pavel Merzlikin, translation by Kevin Rothrock

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