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Off the hook Joint investigation reveals unpursued leads in Nemtsov murder case

Source: Mediazona
Alexander Zemlyanichenko / AP / Scanpix / LETA

Russian officials investigating the murder of former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov have identified but virtually ignored several important witnesses and possible accomplices to the crime, according to a new joint investigation by the news outlet “Mediazona” and the anti-corruption website the “Scanner Project.” According to investigative journalists, several of these individuals are linked to influential Chechen politicians, including senator Suleiman Geremeyev and State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov

Boris Nemtsov was killed in a drive-by shooting on the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge near the Kremlin in central Moscow on February 27, 2015. Five Chechens were convicted for his murder: Zaur Dadayev (who is considered the direct perpetrator), brothers Anzor and Shadid Gubashev, Temirlan Eskerkhanov, and Khamzat Bakhayev. None of them pleaded guilty in court. While some of the accused confessed, they later retracted their testimonies, claiming that they faced pressure from state investigators. Another suspect, Beslan Shavanov, died in custody. The person responsible for ordering Nemtsov’s assassination has never been identified.

A Chechen police officer linked to the perpetrators

In April 2016, lawyers Vadim Prokhorov and Olga Mikhailova — legal representatives for Boris Nemtsov’s daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova — filed a petition with the Russian Constitutional Court, listing the names of alleged accomplices involved in Nemtsov’s murder. They maintained that state investigators had established “circumstances indicating the possible involvement of these individuals in organizing and [carrying out] Nemtsov’s murder,” but had failed to interrogate any of them properly or bring charges against them. In conversation with Mediazona and the Scanner Project, Vadim Prokhorov said there’s no doubt that “a significant portion of the perpetrators and, moreover, all of the organizers of the crime have escaped responsibility so far.”

Among others, the petition named Chechen police lieutenant Aslanbek Khatayev (born in 1980), who, according to Mediazona, met with the suspects in the Nemtsov murder case before and after the crime. He was seen with Zaur Dadayev and Temirlan Eskerkhanov at the Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel in Moscow on January 19, 2015 — about a month before the murder. According to his phone bill, Khatayev called Zaur Dadayev no less than 28 times in January and February 2015.

According to the joint investigation, Khatayev regularly travelled around Moscow with Dadayev and Ruslan Geremeyev — the former deputy commander of the “Sever” police battalion who journalists and the Nemtsov family’s lawyers have linked to the crime repeatedly, — as well as Geremeyev’s driver Ruslan Mukhudinov, who is wanted on charges of organizing Nemtsov’s murder. Khatayev also visited the apartment on Veernaya Street in Moscow where the perpetrators of the murder lived, including after Nemtsov’s death. In addition, he booked plane tickets from Moscow to Grozny together with Ruslan Geremeyev. 

Investigators working on the Nemtsov case questioned Aslanbek Khatayev as a witness. He said that he knows Eskerkhanov and Mukhudinov, and that Ruslan and Artur Geremeyev are his relatives. At the same time he denied being acquainted with Zaur Dadayev and the others accused of killing Nemtsov.

According to information from Russia’s property registry (Rosreestr), Aslanbek Khatayev owned a 148-square-meter (1,593-square-foot) apartment in Moscow’s Edelweiss Skyscraper from 2012–2013. Mediazona estimates the apartment’s value at 45–50 million rubles ($558,900–$621,000). Khatayev bought the apartment from Razita Delimkhanova, State Duma Deputy Adam Delimkhanov’s ex-wife. Khatayev sold the property in February 2013, but according to the case file he continued living there until January 2015. Apparently, the suspects involved in the Nemtsov murder visited him there frequently. 

During questioning, investigators asked Khatayev how a police inspector was able to afford a Mercedes-Benz SLK 350 and an apartment in the Edelweiss Skyscraper. He replied that he “was simply registered” at this address (his answer about the car wasn’t included).

Khatayev’s legal address is registered in the Chechen village of Starogladkovskaya, where Ruslan and Artur Geremeyev are registered as residents as well. However, during the interrogation in December 2015 he said that he actually lives in Dzhalka, Chechnya — the hometown of lawmaker Adam Delimkhanov. What’s more, until August 2009, Khatayev worked as the director of “Niyso i K” — a company that Adam Delimkhanov’s mother Maryam Delimkhanova previously owned a stake in.

Zhanna Nemtsova’s lawyers demanded that the court handling the Nemtsov murder trial call Aslanbek Khatayev in for questioning, but the judge rejected the petition. Khatayev himself refused to answer questions from journalists and asked reporters not to disturb him with calls. 

An accomplice left unquestioned? 

State investigators established that a man by the name of Abdul Elmurzayev (born in Chechnya in 1979) was also seen at the Radisson Slavyanskaya Hotel, where the suspects met in Moscow. He came there in a Toyota Land Cruiser 200, which was registered in the name of Grozny resident Fariza Kaysarova (who this is remains unclear). Investigators requested Elmurzayev’s phone bills, but didn’t analyze these records.

Having studied the phone bills, Mediazona suspects that Elmurzayev was following Boris Nemtsov two months prior to his murder: from December 12–26, 2014, he spent eight hours in Moscow’s Zamoskvorechye District — not far from Nemtsov’s home and office — nearly everyday (with the exception of December 19 and weekends).  

Elmurzayev used the same phone as Zaur Dadayev; the case file lists the phone number +7-985-396-6666, which is registered in the name of the aforementioned Fariza Kaysarova. The SIM card with this phone number was activated around 11:00 a.m. on December 12, 2014, near the house where Elmurzayev was living. According to Mediazona, Elmurzayev’s SIM was put into an old phone that Zaur Dadayev also made calls from in December 2014 using his own SIM card.

According to the phone bills, Abdul Elmurzayev could have met with Ruslan Mukhudinov on Tverskaya Street in Moscow in December 2014, as well as with Zaur Dadayev at the Edelweiss Skyscraper (where Aslanbek Khatayev lived). 

The case files don't contain any information about whether or not state investigators interrogated Abdul Elmurzayev. 

Two businessmen

As previously mentioned, Zaur Dadayev and his accomplices lived and met at an apartment on Veernaya Street in Moscow. The apartment was purchased by Ruslan Geremeyev’s relative and driver Artur Geremeyev. According to the Sirena airline reservation system, Artur Geremeyev flew to Moscow with Zaur Dadayev on December 20, 2014. Shortly before the murder, on February 17, 2015, he flew from Moscow to Grozny with Ruslan Geremeyev and Temirlan Eskerkhanov. An investigator wanted to question both Artur and Ruslan Geremeyev and even knocked on the door of their house in Starogladkovskaya (Chechnya), but no one answered the door.

The day before Boris Nemtsov’s murder, February 26, 2015, Artur Geremeyev brought Ruslan Geremeyev and Temirlan Eskerkhanov to the Hotel Ukraina in Moscow. The driver waited for them in the parking lot, while Geremeyev and Eskerkhanov went inside. At the Tatler Restaurant inside the hotel, they allegedly met with businessman Ali Aliyev (who hails from Dagestan) and businessman/singer Alexander Dmiterko. 

According to Mediazona, Ali Aliyev (born in 1968) is close to Aslanbek Khatayev. Aliyev has been photographed at the Edelweiss Skyscraper where Khatayev lived on several occasions, and there’s a photo of the two of them together at a friendly dinner — what’s more, they both paid for parking for a single Mercedes-Benz S500. Aliyev also visited the Delimkhanov family’s home in Dzhalka, Chechnya. 

In conversation with Mediazona, Ali Aliyev said that he went to the Hotel Ukraina on February 26, 2015, to meet with “his friend Sasha” (apparently referring to Alexander Dmiterko, born in 1972). “Yes, these [people] were there and those [people] were there,” Aliyev told the journalists. “We just met, drank tea, and left. I’m not acquainted with Geremeyev and Eskerkhanov. Just like I know Saddam Hussein and Barack Obama from television.” Aliyev confirmed that he knew Aslanbek Khatayev, who he worked with “15 years ago” at the Maloyaroslavetsky dry mix plant, which he now heads. 

Judging by surveillance camera footage presented in the case file, Aliyev, Dmiterko, Geremeyev, and Eskerkhanov went into the hotel together and left together half an hour later. The case materials obtained by Mediazona don’t report any official investigative activity regarding Aliyev and Dmiterko, but they both claim that they spoke with state investigators.

Photo ops with Kadyrov

Mediazona and the Scanner Project uncovered a photo of Ruslan Geremeyev, who state investigators were planning to interrogate in connection with the Nemtsov murder case, but never did. During the investigation, the Nemtsov family’s lawyers suggested that Geremeyev may have been the organizer behind the crime. 

The journalists found several snapshots of Geremeyev from a trip to Israel, where he accompanied businessman Arkady Gaydamak to a soccer game. Two unnamed sources said that “Ramzan Kadyrov’s representative” was part of the delegation from Chechnya that attended the match. Mediazona concludes that this must have been Geremeyev, since “ no other candidates for the role of the Chechen leader’s representative could be found in Gaydamak’s entourage.”

The journalists also found a photo of Ruslan Geremeyev on a Facebook page belonging to someone by the name of Adam Geremeyev (who exactly this is and whether or not this is their real name remains unknown). 

The photo from Adam Geremeyev’s Facebook page featuring Ruslan Geremeyev (left) and Ramzan Kadyrov (center)

The authors of the joint investigation also claim to have found several more pictures of Geremeyev with Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov and Sever police battalion commander Alibek Delimkhanov, Adam Delimkhanov’s brother. 

A rumored death

In December 2015, the Russian Investigative Committee named Ruslan Mukhudinov — a former fighter in the Sever battalion who served alongside Zaur Dadayev and Ruslan Geremeyev — as a suspect responsible for organizing and ordering the hit on Boris Nemtsov.

According to state investigators, Mukhudinov found the apartment where the suspects in the case lived and met, purchased the car used to tail Nemtsov, and got the gun used to shoot him. The investigators believe that Mukhudinov offered to pay the suspects in the case 15 million rubles (about $186,000) to kill Nemtsov. Mukhudinov was arrested in absentia and added to an international wanted list after it emerged that he had left Russia for the United Arab Emirates. 

In July 2015, the website Rosbalt, which has published information about the Nemtsov murder investigation repeatedly, reported that according to operatives, “Ruslan Mukhudinov no longer seems to be alive.” However, according to Mediazona, these claims could be unfounded. Using Mukhudinov’s phone number, the journalists working on the joint investigation were able to find his social media accounts on VKontakte, Odnoklassniki, Facebook, and Instagram (the last page has since been deleted), where he goes by the name “Ruslan Gilayev.” According to their reports, Ruslan Mukhudinov was active on his social media accounts after Rosbalt published rumors about his death: he posted on Vkontakte on September 20, 2015, and on Odnoklassniki on October 8, 2016.

In addition, the investigation claims that one of Mukhudinov’s friends, Said-Umar Geremeyev, published a photo with him in September 2018. Journalists also identified Mukhudinov in another photo of the two men, which was posted to two separate Instagram accounts in June and September 2020.

Until November 2016, bailiffs regularly received fines issued to Ruslan Mukhudinov for violating traffic regulations. “That is, law enforcement agencies were even reluctant to search for this kind of organizer of a murder,” Mediazona writes.

The case against Mukhudinov has been severed from the proceedings against the other unidentified individuals, who, according to state investigators, were responsible for ordering Nemtsov’s killing. 

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Summary by Alexander Baklanov 

Translation by Eilish Hart