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3Novices:Five men convicted of assassinating Russian opposition leader

MOSCOW // A jury on Thursday convicted five men of murdering Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, but the late politician's allies said the investigation had been a cover-up and that the people who had ordered his killing remained at large.

Nemtsov, one of president Vladimir Putin's most vocal critics, was murdered in 2015 as he walked across a bridge near the Kremlin after dining with his girlfriend late one evening. Aged 55, he had been working on a report examining Russia's role in Ukraine. The brazenness of his murder sent shock waves through the Russian opposition.

After a trial lasting more than eight months, a jury convicted five ethnic Chechen men of his murder, including the man prosecutors said pulled the trigger, Zaur Dadayev, a former soldier in Chechnya.

The four others had acted as his accomplices, the jury decided, acquiring the firearm and transporting the assassin, and the group had been promised a bounty of 15 million roubles (Dh926,658) for the high-profile assassination. They had tailed Nemtsov around Moscow before choosing their moment to strike.

Nemtsov's supporters welcomed the verdict, but said Dadayev and the others were low-level operatives. The case remained unsolved, they said, because those who had ordered, financed and organised the hit had not been caught.

"It's the biggest crime of the century and yet they haven't identified the real organisers or those who ordered it," Vadim Prokhorov, a lawyer for the late politician's daughter, said after the verdict.

"The Russian government was not prepared to look into the entourage of (Chechen leader Ramzan) Kadyrov," he said . .

Zhanna Nemtsova, eldest daughter of the murdered politician, has repeatedly said she wanted Kadyrov, the Kremlin-backed head of Chechnya who calls himself "Putin's foot soldier", to be questioned about what he knew about the case.

The gunman, Zaur Dadayev, was formerly a member of the Kadyrov's security forces. When he was arrested shortly after the killing, the Chechen leader vehemently defended him as a "true patriot."

But Kadyrov, who has denied allegations of personal involvement, never appeared before the court.

Nor did Ruslan Geremeyev, the commander of the police unit in which Dadyev served. He was summoned to testify, but failed to turn up. Investigators told the court last year that they had visited Geremeyev's property in Chechnya but "no one opened the door."

Dadayev and the other men confessed soon after they were arrested. They later retracted their confessions, saying they had been tortured into admitting responsibility for the killing.

Investigators have never established who ordered Nemtsov's assassination.

After the verdict was announced, Nemtsov's eldest daughter, Zhanna Nemtsova, said in a Facebook post: "The case remains unsolved. Investigators and the court clearly did not want to uncover the truth about this crime. There was only one task: find the triggerman and hold a trial. They did just that. But we will continue to fight for the truth by any means we have."

It will now be up to the judge to sentence the five men. Prosecutors are expected to announce the sentences they are seeking at a hearing next week.

Ilya Yashin, a close Nemtsov ally, welcomed the convictions. In a Facebook post, he said the fact that the architect of Namtsov's death had never been identified sends a chilling message to Russian opposition figures.

"Political murders in Russia will continue if the masterminds are able to get away with this," he said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said it was up to investigators, not the Kremlin, to decide whether the murder of Boris Nemtsov needed further investigation. Interfax news agency reported

* Reuters
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