Russia sentences Nemtsov hitmen to lengthy jail terms

Yuri Kadobnov/ AFP
Yuri Kadobnov/ AFP

Moscow - A Russian court on Thursday handed jail terms ranging from 11 to 20 years to five Chechen men for organising and carrying out the contract killing of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov.

Zaur Dadayev, who carried out the shooting, was sentenced to 20 years in prison while four other defendants were jailed for between 11 and 19 years, judge Yury Zhitnikov told the Moscow courtroom after a lengthy trial by jury.

The prosecutor had asked for longer sentences for all the defendants including life in jail for Dadayev -- a formal internal troop commander in Chechnya.

A jury in June found all five guilty of the contract killing after a marathon trial that Nemtsov's supporters say failed to unmask the masterminds.

Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister and fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was gunned down just metres from the Kremlin as he walked home with his girlfriend on the evening of February 27, 2015.

The brazen murder in central Moscow was the most high-profile political killing in Russia since Putin rose to power some 17 years ago.

Nemtsov's family says that people close to Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov who were linked to the murder have not been investigated.

Those convicted -- Dadayev, brothers Shadid and Anzor Gubashev, Temirlan Eskerkhanov and Khamzat Bakhayev -- are all ethnic Chechens from Russia's volatile North Caucasus.

'Lie' 

The court said they carried out the hit for a fee of $250,000 (220,000 euros).

They have always denied they were involved in the killing and several retracted initial confessions they said were made under torture.

After the sentencing, Eskerkhanov exhaled on the glass of the cage where the defendants are held and wrote with his finger "lie," while the men's relatives wept in the courtroom.

In a statement after the sentencing, Russia's Investigative Committee, which probes major crimes, said it was continuing "to gather evidence on the organisers of the Nemtsov murder."

The investigators have said the case is still ongoing over a suspected organiser who has fled.

The suspect, Ruslan Mukhudinov, was the driver of the Chechen commander under whom the gunman Dadayev served.

Investigators said Mukhudinov offered the defendants the money for the murder but they never explained why the low-ranking official would have wanted Nemtsov dead or from where he got the funds.

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