Yury Budanov interrogated over other murders
The Russian Prosecutors Office Investigation Committee announced on 9 June that former Russian Army Colonel Yury Budanov has been interrogated as a suspect over the abduction of 18 Chechens and killing of three of them in 2000. Budanov, who received an early release (having served only 6 years of a 10 year sentence) in January for the abduction and killing of 18-year-old Elza Kungaeva, denies involvement. The Committees Press Service said that Budanov had been questioned twice in the presence of his lawyer.
According to the investigation file, 18 inhabitants of Chechnya were unlawfully deprived of their liberty at a checkpoint near Duba-Yort. Three of those abducted were later found killed. Elza Kungaevas father had earlier told the newspaper Gazeta.ru that it was he who found the bodies. Later, after Budanov was shown on television, local residents identified him as the member of the military who they say personally led four people away. According to the Investigation Committee, “a number of local residents assert that Budanov was implicated in the given crime”.
As already reported, movement in the criminal investigation into the abduction of the 18 Chechens began soon after it was learned that Budanov was to be released on parole. He was freed on 15 January 2009, four days before the killing of the Kungaeva familys lawyer Stanislav Markelov, who had less than an hour earlier announced at a press conference plans to appeal against the legality of Budanovs release. In the brazen killing, Anastasia Baburova, freelance journalist for Novaya Gazeta, was also fatally wounded.
On 22 January the Committees Investigation Department reopened the investigation into the abduction and killing which had been talked about in Chechnya since 2000. The Committee had announced its intention to question Budanov back in March, but was forced to admit that they didnt know his whereabouts.
In a commentary given to www.grani.ru , Alexander Cherkasov, member of the board of Memorial, stresses that this is not so much the initiating of a criminal investigation against Yury Budanov, as the appearance of a suspect in an old criminal investigation. “Memorial learned of these disappearances in Spring 2008, however it took enormous effort to get a criminal investigation initiated in autumn 2008. Then the Prosecutors Office refused to open a file over clear episodes of crimes, while the Military Prosecutors Office refused to begin proceedings even in those cases where the involvement of the military was clear.”
Alexander Cherkasov explains that under pressure from human rights defenders and the Chechen authorities, the Prosecutors Office has become more active. Near the village of Tangi-Chu close to where federal troops under the command of Vladimir Shamanov, 74 bodies have already been exhumed. Who was to blame – Budanov or Shamanov, whose name has already figured in two European Court of Human Rights cases, is not a matter of dispute. Yet despite Strasbourgs recommendation that the relevant criminal investigations be reopened, this has not happened, and Shamanov presently holds a high-ranking managerial post. Whether the investigation will go further than the discovery of dozens of bodies is also unclear.