'Risk Factor' Murder in Vienna Leads Investigators to Chechen President

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Part 2: The Failure of Austrian Authorities to Grant Protection


Kadyrov's henchmen tracked down the "risk factor" in May 2008. A Chechen who identified himself as the businessman Artur Kurmakayev contacted Israilov. Kurmakayev, who had been in prison in Germany from 2003 to 2006 for extortion and coercion, apparently came right to the point in their first meeting. According to the Austrian investigators, he offered to give Israilov the telephone number of Kadyrov and told him that if he apologized to Kadyrov and withdrew his complaint with the European Court of Human Rights, all would be forgotten. Apparently Kurmakayev also gave Israilov a piece of advice: that he ought to think of his family. Several meetings followed, and in one meeting, which apparently took place in a Vienna mosque, Israilov and Kurmakayev, both armed, allegedly threatened each other. On one occasion, Israilov recorded their conversation. In the recording, Kurmakayev claimed that he had spoken directly with Kadyrov and then said:

"Talk to him. You deportation papers are ready. In this type of situation -- perhaps not today or tomorrow, but in a month or two -- you will definitely be deported. Your family will stay here, but you will be deported. Ramzan doesn't want you to end up with the FSB (the Russian domestic intelligence agency). And I wouldn't want that, either, if I were you. If we can settle all of this with you on the phone today, talk to you without any harm being done to your loved ones and your family…"

But Kurmakayev's attempts to convince Israilov failed, and on June 9, 2008 he received new instructions: to "take care of things." Was it an order to commit murder? It was, at least in the eyes of Kurmakayev, who revealed everything to authorities in Vienna on June 10:

"I work for the president of the Republic of Chechnya, Ramzan Kadyrov. My boss is the president's right-hand man … In late April or early May, I received instructions from President Kadyrov to find the individual Umar Israilov … and bring him home … Kadyrov's right-hand man called me yesterday … and then he connected me to President Kadyrov, who told me that the situation had changed and that Israilov was no longer needed in Chechnya, and that I should do as I wished ... but that I had to decide what to do about the problem on my own … I don't want to break the law… I'm not a murderer…"

To No Avail

During those summer days in 2008, the Austrian authorities should have immediately recognized that a matter they had treated as routine until then had become urgent. Kurmakayev's statements should have set off the alarm bells, particularly given that Israilov's close associates had begun asking the authorities for protection. But to no avail.

It was then that the case finally became a political issue, as friends of the hunted man tried to bring down the hunter. On June 13, 2008, they filed a criminal complaint against Kadyrov. He was reportedly planning to travel to Austria to attend two of the Russian team's matches at the European Football Championship. Israilov's attorney filed a petition for an arrest warrant, but she was sent from one office to the next. No one was willing to accept her petition, and an arrest warrant was never issued.

Instead, on June 19, the police arrested Kurmakayev. He described his life in the underground and told the authorities that he had been involved in several "missions," some of them in Germany.

The minutes of the session say a lot about the Austrian interrogators: "You are clean-shaven and are wearing clean clothes. How can you explain this?" A clean Chechen was apparently something beyond the imagination of the Austrian police detectives. The next day, they put him on a flight to Moscow. The recently-released investigators' report states that Kurmakayev is now presumably dead.

But he was apparently only one of many in Kadyrov's network. The others remained active and the authorities did nothing to protect Israilov. On July 8, 2008, his attorney wrote a letter requesting personal security for Israilov, but it too was not granted. By then, the Chechen hit men had apparently long since located Israilov.

Darkened Windows

But even Israilov had no idea how many Chechen expatriates in Vienna were in contact with Kadyrov. The investigators analyzed countless mobile phone calls, evidence at the murder scene and statements by other Chechens. Much of the information pointed to Kadyrov and to trips Chechen expatriates had made to meet with the strongman in Grozny.

According to the investigation, a Chechen living in Vienna under the assumed name Otto Kaltenbrunner made several trips to Grozny before the murder. He had co-founded a cultural society in St. Pölten near Vienna, a meeting place for Chechen expatriates. But in reality, investigators believe, he was not interested in culture and tradition, but in setting up "a covert campaign" to acquire information about former fellow Chechens.

The investigators believe Kaltenbrunner served as the "contact to Kadyrov," and that he was responsible for the "logistical organization" of the Jan. 13, 2009 killing. On that day, two cars were driven to Israilov's address: a green Volvo with darkened windows registered in Kaltenbrunner' name, and a red Opel Astra. Israilov walked out of the Eurospar supermarket at around noon, and the deadly shots were fired soon afterwards. Using their mobile phones, two passersby photographed the killers as they ran through the streets, still holding their guns. They got into the Volvo minutes later.

Press Denial

When the police found Kaltenbrunner's car, the green Volvo, a short time later, it contained a plastic bag that had been made into a gag and disposable gloves, items the investigators referred to as tools for an "abduction and imminent delivery to a foreign power." The agents also found an important piece of evidence in the memory of Kaltenbrunner's mobile phone: several photos of him embracing Kadyrov.

Three presumed killers are still in custody today. Kaltenbrunner denies all involvement. Kadyrov, on the other hand, according to the file, "could not be questioned in the matter, but he did announce in the press that he had absolutely nothing to do with the murder."

That Jan. 13 did not mark the end of this dramatic political crime story. Israilov has been buried, but even as a dead man, he is still a "risk factor" for Kadyrov. Even without an arrest warrant against the Chechen president, the trial will likely turn into a tribunal for the ruler of Grozny.

Translated from the German by Christopher Sultan

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