Russian authorities may have even more reason than previously suspected for launching a bogus criminal case against the dissident lawyer Mikhail Trepashkin (see Chechnya Weekly, November 6 and November 13). The day before his arrest last month, Trepashkin told reporter Igor Korolkov of the weekly Moskovskie novosti that he had previously unpublished information linking his former employer, the Federal Security Service (FSB), with the bombings of two Moscow apartment buildings in September of 1999. The bombings caused some 228 deaths; Vladimir Putin, at that time prime minister under Boris Yeltsin, immediately blamed them on terrorists from Chechnya and used them as part of his case for the second Chechen war.
The Russian authorities have never made public convincing proof of Chechen involvement in the 1999 Moscow bombings, nor have they ever provided a satisfactory explanation of the FSB’s own involvement in a suspiciously similar episode in Ryazan (see Chechnya Weekly, June 5). The authorities now claim to have caught two of the perpetrators of the bombings, whose trial began on October 31. They also claim to have identified the mastermind of the bombings, who supposedly gave these two their orders; they say that that this suspect is named Achemez Gochiyaev and is still at large.
According to Trepashkin, however, the suspect identified by the authorities as Gochiyaev is actually one Vladimir Romanovich, a suspect in an extortion case that Trepashkin helped investigate some seven years ago when he was still employed by the FSB.
Trepashkin told the Moskovskie novosti reporter that he recognized Romanovich from an identikit photo that the authorities published after the 1999 explosions, at which time they asked the public to help track down the man who had rented a basement in one of the targeted buildings and had then planted a bomb there. He shared his own photo of Romanovich with his former superiors in the FSB–but apparently their only reaction was to change the published identikit image so as to make it look less like Romanovich.
After his recent meeting with Trepashkin, the reporter Korolkov contacted the man from whom the suspected terrorist rented the apartment house’s basement. This landlord, Mark Blyumenfeld, confirmed that his tenant did not in fact resemble Gochiyaev–but that the FSB had pressured him to testify otherwise. “At Lefortovo [the FSB headquarters] they showed me a photograph of a certain person,” said Blyumenfeld, “and they said that this was Gochiyaev and that it was supposedly to him that I had rented out the basement. I answered that I had never seen that man. But they insistently recommended to me that I identify Gochiyaev. I understood what they wanted, did not argue further, and signed the statement.”
According to Trepashkin, seven years ago Romanovich was a member of a Chechen-led criminal gang that was trying to extort bribes from the Soldi bank in Moscow. It seemed to Trepashkin from his own investigation at that time that Romanovich had ties with the FSB: Efforts to interrogate him were blocked by Trepashkin’s own superiors. The gang also had some surprising members, according to Trepashkin, such as a Colonel Golubovsky of the GRU (Russian military intelligence) and one Karlen Azizbekyan, head of a security service for the government of Moscow. Trepashkin said that when arrested these two invoked the protection of a consultant to the Russian General Staff, one Major General Tarasenko.
The official investigation of the 1999 bombing continues to ignore Trepashkin’s leads and to focus on the current defendants, Adam Dekkushev and Yusuf Krymshamkhalov. Their trial is being conducted behind closed doors, with no access for the media or other independent observers.
On November 14 a Moscow regional court rejected a petition by Trepashkin’s lawyers to release him from custody until he is properly tried and found guilty.